Today, I received a call from a call centre. I hate those, don’t you? We are supposed to be on a no-call list too.
The interesting thing is the call was not from India, but most likely from China. How can I be so sure? Because the caller spoke in Mandarin.
Now I can’t really speak Mandarin but I did learn a little and can tell if it is Mandarin or another Chinese dialect.
Why would they have called me? Why would they have assumed I’d know Mandarin? I’m not Chinese.
But wait. I am. I’m partly Chinese. I also have a Chinese surname – my maiden name, though when I eventually take my husband’s name, it will still be Chinese.
When election time comes around, I’ve received letters from local members trying to win my vote. The thing that gets my goat is when they send me letters both written in English and Chinese. I can’t read the language. They have assumed, because of my surname, that I am Chinese and that I can probably read the language.
I sometimes forget that people assume I’m Chinese purely from seeing my name. I have lived with that name for so long it’s just a natural part of me, part of my identity.
I forget that society still classifies or categorises people often by simple information such as looks, name, birth place, accent. Heck, I’ve done it too, sometimes without thinking. I’ve been surprised when a “Chang” I’ve spoken to on the phone turns out to be Caucasian, or a “Smith” turns out to be Chinese.
I think about my kids and how society is going to categorise them. I think about my nephews and nieces, some with fair hair and blue eyes named “Wong”, and wonder how society is going to categorise them. I recall my mother and how people assumed she was Chinese after taking my father’s surname.
People seem to need to categorise, even if there is no malicious or racist intent. It’s hard not to ignore someone who seems different. Even I have chosen to categorise myself, though my ethnicity does not fall into one of the common categories. I am very comfortable in my identity as a Eurasian person, a person of mixed heritage, or Hapa. I am both Chinese and Caucasian (of English and Irish heritage), and I am very comfortable in my skin.
I am not sure we can be “colour-blind” in this world. However, we should not be prejudiced or attach negative or derogatory values to difference, especially physical difference. In acknowledging or recognising difference, I hope we can learn to appreciate it and understand that people are, essentially, at the core of their beings, all the same. Just like Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder sang in Ebony and Ivory:
“We All Know That People Are The Same Where Ever We Go
There Is Good And Bad In Ev’ryone,
We Learn To Live, We Learn To Give
Each Other What We Need To Survive Together Alive.”
I’m a strong believer in choosing one’s own identity. I hope my children, nieces, nephews and all other people of mixed ethnicities will not feel they have to hide or conform to suit the main stereotypical categorisations of society. Rather, I hope they will feel the freedom to choose and celebrate their full heritage, much like the children profiled in Kip Fulbeck’s work, Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids (This site requires Flash, which won’t work on some mobile devices, so you might want to check the book out on Amazon instead).
Have you ever suffered from a case of mistaken identity based on something unique about you? What thoughts do you have about your identity or point of difference, whether it be about your ethnicity or looks or anything else?