A friend declared this sometime last fall. A friend who can get away with a comment like this, because he’s right—I am a pale Indian being 1/2 and 1/2. Also, he’s not white which means he knows, in part, where I’m coming from.
Generally, though, the comment that I get when I tell folks that I’m Indian is “You don’t look it at all.” They then proceed to look me up/down and sometimes even circle around me to punctuate their point. Though the person who makes this comment may be anyone from my professor (who later told me there was something Indian about me, my "negative attitude" when I grew visibly upset with his comments that continued to usher forth as any dam that well should have remained, damned) to an old friend to a new boyfriend to patients or audience members (who wouldn’t look me in the eye at a certain venue, plugged as an event for mixed background writers, because I wasn’t Asian American enough or not the *right* kind of Asian).
Another popular response is, “Oh, which tribe?” In the State of Washington, this may be a more common occurrence, but I have on more than one occasion had to point to a map and show someone that India is an actual country and that Columbus did in fact believe he was discovering it. You get my point.
The next evolution of the surprise is the need to see some sort of proof. Do I have photos to share of my parents or when I was younger in the South and my melanocytes were still expressing enough melanin to justify my 1/2 Indian status.
My ultimate favorite of these tasteless moments happened just last year at my book launch. My parents had flown in from CA to watch what was, perhaps, a lifetime goal of seeing my first full-length poetry collection launch. They sat in the back as writers, professors, health care practitioners, friends from all parts of my life took turns introducing themselves and making them feel at home in an environment that was foreign to them. At the Hugo House Cabaret, my mom sat with her 1/2 a glass of white, my dad with his umbrella when someone walked up to ask the following question, "Are you her real father?"
While there are so many points I could be making here, I leave you with this. Why is it important that you see a person’s race/ethnicity? Does it make them any less (fill in the blank) because you aren’t capable of seeing someone for who they are, how they were raised, what they believe themselves to be? And when would you ever go up to a white man and ask if he was someone’s "real father"? Seriously. It's time to figure out your motivation for speaking before you speak. I know my Dutch mother taught me this way before kindergarten. What about yours?
Natasha Kochicheril Moni is a writer and a licensed naturopath in WA State. Enjoying this blog? Feel free to put a little coffee in Natasha's cup, right here.