The Visitor

 

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James and Eddie, back when we visited Florida in 2005.

Traveling is for white people.

That’s just the way the world is set up in my experience as an Asian-American.

I used to love traveling, the plane rides, the way the beautiful stewardesses would treat kids like royalty, Holiday Inn and its endless buffet of ice, soda, and burgers, the coffee creamers in their little metal pitchers, the perfect cubes of rock sugar, the changing landscapes, the different-looking people. All of it.

After a few years in America, however, I changed my view. Oh, I still love traveling. I’m a Sagittarius at heart, despite what it looks like. It’s just that I’ve experienced so much racism wherever I go that I suffer from a bout of anxiety every time I’m about to head out, outside the safety of my home.

I also suffer from social phobia, which can cripple me into indecision and withdrawal, because of the same racism I’ve encountered.

Believe it or not, the worst racism I’ve ever experienced came from fellow minorities, especially living in paradise, aka Hawaii. I’ve had Japanese-Americans with their Polynesian/Filipino-mixed best friends bully me because I had slanted eyes and a flat face. I’ve watched a group of Asian locals make fun of my husband or my friends, because they didn’t come straight out of a surfer GQ magazine. (Local s can be extremely shallow. I know. Insane, right?)

My second time in Hawaii, eighth grade through high school, I trained myself to look down whenever I went out — for survival. Locals didn’t take too kindly to being looked at, even curiously or accidentally.

I still do it out of habit, and I’m in my 50s.

In Seattle, my husband defended me to two teenaged girls who started in with me. One of them was black, her best friend white. They enjoyed making me feel like an outsider, using the only weapon at their disposal: my appearance. I was trying to go into a building to pick up my temp check on Third Ave. when they began to do the slant-eyed, “Ching Chong” dance.

I wonder what it’s like to be white and never give things like traveling a second thought. White people have it made. They can just enjoy life. Then post glowing reviews about their perfect day on social media. People like me? Oftentimes, just going to the store to buy a carton of milk is a social land mine.

Before summer’s truly over, I’m going to Montana for the weekend on a road trip with my family. I’ve never been. Luckily, I have my white husband as a cover in case things get hairy. My son is hapa-haole, but he looks more white than Korean, so nobody ever bothers him.

So, I’ll say a quick prayer, do the sign of the cross, and be on my way, hoping I don’t offend anyone with my Asian face. I’ll also quietly look for other minorities, preferably black or gays, so I can feel a little more safe.

In the meantime, let me apologize in advance if my appearance offends you. I’m here legally. My late father was white; that’s why my maiden name is Carol Banks. His parents came from Ireland and England. He served in the Army all his life until his retirement in 1977. He married my mom when she was pregnant with me in Korea, believing me to be his. I used to speak Korean and English. But now, I’m English all the way. I even minored in English and Political Science, with a major in journalism. I speak good English for a Korean, too.

I may look different from you, but I’m not that different inside.

Please don’t ruin my vacation.

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