I am a woman of the world. Or at least I look it.
For some reason I am extremely confusing-looking to people or “ethnically ambiguous.” People seem to be very tortured by the mystery of it all and subsequently berate me with the poorly-phrased “What are you?” question, whether by some random man on the subway, a friendly uber driver, or a curious acquaintance.
If I’m in a good mood, I playfully goad them to make a guess what my background is. If I’m cranky, I’ll be deliberately obtuse to try to force them to rephrase their mildly offensive question:
“What ARE you?”
“Canadian. What, don’t I look Canadian?!”
“No, but what ARE you?”
“But like, where are you FROM?”
"What is your ethnic background?"
*ding ding ding!!*
When I wear eyeliner along my entire lash line people think I’m Arabic. If I tuck a flower in my hair, people assume that I'm Polynesian. When I wear a dress with a Latin flair, Spanish people think I'm one of their own. Random Thai strangers ask me why I look Thai if I’m Chinese. If you can tell I’m Chinese then I must look Chinese! I’ve gotten Cambodian, Vietnamese/French, Mexican, Filipino…It might be quicker for me to list what people HAVEN’T thought I was.
Just the other day in the bathroom, a woman asked me if I was Chinese or Aboriginal. Those aren't even similar! Is that even PC?!
I’m 100% Chinese.
As fas as I know, anyways. When I told my Dad that people rarely think that I’m Chinese, his only comment was “Well, you better ask your mom about that.”
In cosmopolitan cities as culturally diverse as Toronto, you can’t throw an Uncle Tetsu cheesecake without hitting an Asian but in places like Colombia or Ireland, we’re like the Polkaroo of ethnicities. I stick out like a sore thumb!
If I have ever blended in anywhere in the world that I’ve visited thus far, it’d be the multi-ethnic Peru that was formed by a combination of groups over the course of 5 centuries: The Native Peruvians (or Amerindians), Spaniards and Africans under colonial rule, immigration from England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, and finally, Chinese and Japanese arrived as replacements for slave workers.
However it’s also the only place I’ve been cock-blocked by my indeterminate features.
Janelle and I were visited Huacachina, Ica, a small town built around an oasis in the middle of a desert and spent our first day driving around in a dune buggy and boarding down sand dunes.
The next day we got a tour of the Tony Labis pisco winery to learn more about Peru’s national liquor. It covered the process of the growing of the special grape variety, fermentation, the outdoor facility, and ended with a sampling of 6 types of pisco.
Their coveted vintages were housed in a cool, cave-like room full of thrift shop treasures with hilarious names that translated to things like Baby Maker and Panty Dropper, ranging from sweet, sherry types with low alcohol content to harsh liquors that could probably be used to remove paint in addition to inhibitions.
Peruvians sure have a sense of humour….Or maybe the vintage names were meant to serve as a warning.
After the pisco sampling, we got lunch at the restaurant in the winery with a Brazilian mother-daughter pair. During the course of our meal of anticuchos, we were visited by various relatives of the family that owned the winery. One in particular that came by every so often to enlighten us with pisco trivia was a broad-shouldered Peruvian who had played football professionally in Miami.
He was very charming and good-looking with a broad, white smile and inky black hair cut short. He looked typically Peruvian in the sense that he looked to be a mix of the various ethnicities that populated the country. He would flirt with our table and once he left for a bit, the Brazilian ladies would tease me in particular, calling him my “boyfriend”.
We finished up our meal and the football-playing Peruvian made his final visit to our little group, accompanied by his aunt. After some more light banter, his aunt said something in Spanish while gesturing to me and his smile faltered at her words.
“What did she say?” I asked.
Reluctantly he translated “She says you look like you could be my sister.”
That observation was as effective as having a bucket of ICE COLD water dumped on us. Needless to say we avoided eye contact for the rest of the time I was there.
The one place I aesthetically fit in and it’s embarrassing AF. That situation has made me appreciate my ethnic ambiguity if that means I don't look related to potential suitors.
^The only Peruvian BF I need. At least we don't look related.