The Right Way

by Carina Clores

Where are you from?

There are variations to this. “New Jersey” is a preliminary answer. You knew what they meant when they asked.

I hope you don’t take this the wrong way.

This is tricky. Some are genuinely curious. Some are unsure of the politics, hiding behind the veil of a “no offense” to cushion the reaction they may get.

Some use this as a formality. You never took it the wrong way. Were you supposed to take it the wrong way?

Guess! You turn it into a game.

Thai? Chinese. Indonesian! Cambodian…?

Laugh cordially.

Give them another chance, a final guess. Hope they don’t call you exotic.

They’re stumped. You know this reaction very well.

So you tell them. You were actually born there, remedying the initial tension of potential offense. Your eyes remind them that you were never offended in the first place. They sigh in relief anyway.

You all plunge into a conversation about what it was like growing up. About your ambiguous eyes. Your ambiguous nose. I have a Filipino friend, (insert name here), he’s also from Manila. You might know him?

Manila, the most densely populated city in the world. Do you speak the language? You do, but reading and writing don’t come as naturally. Do you speak Spanish? You never paid attention in middle school.

Isn’t Filipino similar to Spanish? You are eager to correct. You are quick to point out that Tagalog is a descendant of the Austronesian language.

Your people had a language before colonization.

They get defensive.

They are keen on discerning between French and Italian, English and Irish. But Thailand, China, Indonesia and Cambodia, they are interchangeable.

Well, it was great chatting with you, really. You’re beautiful, but different, very exotic.

I’m glad you didn’t take any of this the wrong way.