I don’t know how many times people here in Arizona say to me “you look like someone I know”, or “Are you such and such person?” and of course it is usually not me, so I politely reply “no”.  Sometimes just to be a bit contrary, I reply “Yes, we Asians all look alike”  meaning “I forgive you for not being able to differentiate me from another Asian you have met”.   It’s sad that many white people can’t seem to tell us Asians apart. A doctor at UAMC recently came up to me and called me “Catherine” by mistake.  And it’s impolite to single out a so-called “minority person” by their facial features.

Ok, so honestly I must look like every other Asian woman around Tucson:  slim, long black hair (though mine is getting SP – salt/pepper) and wire rim glasses.  Plus an oriental face, yellowish skin tone, the usual “perpetual immigrant/foreigner” Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese/Laotian look.  I could be anyone of those ethnicities, or mixtures thereof.


Recently though, a Hispanic woman mistook me for a Navajo woman friend of hers up north on the reservation. That was more flattering, as I know people have sometimes asked me what tribe I belong to, and I usually just smile and say that I’m not Native American, but I would like to be.

Then there’s the rude folks, who ask me “what country are you from?” so I usually reply “America” since Hawaii is really part of the U.S. (the last time I checked).  Hawaii became the 50th state back in August, 1959, and was an American trust territory since 1898. I was born there on one of the islands. I even have an authentic long-form birth certificate to prove it.  But then they keep asking, as they need to know what racial group to put me in, and usually I give up and reply truthfully that both sets of grandparents left Japan for the Kingdom of Hawaii/Trust Territory of Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations (in 1892 and 1910).

So that makes me 3rd generation Japanese American, a Sansei. And I don’t know how to read/speak Japanese as I barely learned it.  Speaking Japanese wasn’t encouraged or “cool” after WWII which ended in 1945. There were no longer Japanese language schools when I was growing up (as there were in Hawaii before WWII). And only Spanish was offered in our high school, which I also studied in college.

And if you’re wondering if these incidents mentioned above ever happen in Hawaii, the answer is no.  There are too many Asians there to confuse one with the other, and most people there know the difference between the various Asian groups by facial features (even biracial mixes). And honestly, in Hawaii there are so many types of people, so much inter-racial diversity, that no one cares what race you are.  You do get judged mostly by the “content of your character,” to quote Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.

So, dear white people – stop asking me about what country I’m from, and saying that I look like so-and-so.  Just meet and greet me (no hand shaking anymore for me since the Ebola crisis), and just be friendly –person to person, with mutual respect for each other’s ethnicity, or lack thereof.  But I’m still “drowning in a sea of white” when I’m usually the only Asian person at an event.

And if you’re wondering where  this subject came from, check out the hilarious, thought-provoking satire “Dear White People” movie still playing at the Loft.  I posted about it when it first arrived in town a few weeks ago: https://blogforarizona.net/dear-white-people-film-about-racism-in-america/. Note the comment I posted the day I recently saw the movie.

And since many people in town think I look like someone else, I guess I might be someone else and not uniquely ME.  How’s that for a sci-fi story?

Poem by Prof. Albrecht Classen (my husband) about me being Asian:

Don’t we know each other?

Always the same question,
from nice white folks,
don’t we know each other?
Have we not met already?

No, we have never met before.
No, I am not the same Asian woman
you have seen before.
No, we Asians do not all look alike.

Once an Asian woman,
always an Asian woman.
They ask in such a friendly tone,
and they hurt in such subtle ways.

Do I perceive you white folks
only in one type of mask?
Do we not have individual features?
Can you not differentiate?