Everywhere I go in Peru the people appear consistently friendly and eager to meet me. I love the Peruvian's open and inviting attitude, which is equally helpful to visitors from anywhere. Yet, one of the things I find annoying is that an overwhelming amount of people assume that I am either Japanese or Chinese! (I was born in Vietnam. To learn more, check out my "Meet Kevin" Page.)
Polite people usually ask me, "De donde es? " (where are you from), and with them I am certainly willing to go through the whole long saga: Vietnam, airplane, Philadelphia, France, San Francisco etc, and anything else they want to know. But many others just come right out and tell me, "You're from Japan, no? " It is a lose/lose situation for me because when I say, "No, I'm from the United States, " they never believe me. They persist, "But where are you REALLY from? " Believe it or not, they often demonstrate why I can not possibly be from the United States by pulling on the corner of their own eyes with their index finger, just to indicate to me a feature in my face that perhaps I have not noticed all these years.
Clearly I realize that these gestures are not meant to be insulting, but I can't help feeling the approach of the big "I" pass before my (slanted) eyes ("I" for Ignorance, not Inti). Sometimes when I am feeling particularly annoyed, I respond by making them try to name at least a few other countries in Asia until they guess right. Some refuse to bother, and instead continue to say Japan or China, perhaps in the off chance I'll come around. Of course once they accept that I am from the US, then they get to go for round two of "where I was born. " One man who believed I was born somewhere in Asia listed, "Thailand? Indonesia? Hawaii? " I wondered if the last one counted to him as being from the US or not. When I become extremely frustrated I usually respond to the persistent question of "Es Japones?" by a clever retort of, "No, es de Ecuador? " We usually call it even right there.
For some reason, people are less adamant about claiming that I am Chinese than Japanese. Vendors usually just call out to me, "Chino! " as I walk by, probably because the two short syllables are easier to call out than "Ja-po-nes! " Occasionally someone will cry out, "Chiniiiiiito" in a sorrowful voice usually asking for a handout. Do they not realize that "Norte Americaaaaaanos" generally have much more money to spend than the average person from China does? I suppose the term "Chino" does have a cute little (belittling) ring to it, and surprisingly enough I have grown accustomed to it by now.
I have actually met a few young Peruvians that are of Chinese or Japanese heritage. From what they have told me, they have been mistaken for the other ethnicity that it doesn't really phase them anymore. They, too, get frustrated at having to reaffirm their identity as a Peruvian especially since they were born and raised here.
Do you ever have your identity challenged in the United States? Do you prefer to always be called "American, " or to use a hyphenated term, such as "Asian-American" or "African-American, " or maybe "Latino"? Please write me an e-mail and let me know how you feel.
Abeja - ...And We'll Put the Mini-Mall Over There, Where Those Alpaca are Grazing
Shawn - Dry Land is not a Myth!
Kavitha - There's a Guerrilla in the House: The Sendero Luminoso in Peru's Central Highlands
Team - The Dark Side of the Shining Path
Trek Connect |
Time Machine |
Multimedia and Special Guests
Home | Search | Teacher Zone