Who is family?

A couple of years back I went to meet some family members at a restaurant for dinner.  I told the host I was meeting my family and he was scanning the list* when I spotted them.  So I told him and started walking over to the table.

As I did so, he tried to stop me.  He was some distance in back of me, but called out several times in a voice marked with distress.  When he arrived at the table, I was already seated.  I’d been kissed and hugged and we were all making lots of “long time no see” sorts of comments.

But the host couldn’t see that.  So he apologized to my family that he had not been able to stop me.  Obviously I was just some kind of crazy intruder who mistakenly thought a bunch of white people might actually be my family.


*as Ty noted in the comments to this post, the Asian face apparently causes some kind of disruption with white people’s cognitive process.

One of my old folk died recently and I was there.  As was a hospice staffer.  Yet again I was acutely aware that white people are greatly confused about why I might be hanging around an old white person.  Or they immediately assume I’m hired help.  They need explanations.  Because being somewhere at 4:30 in the morning apparently isn’t enough.

It is clear to me, too, that white people have a deep driving need to prove they are not racist and that they approve of your relationship.  They mark you as an outsider, but hasten to assure you that you are “accepted.”  Because at one point early in the morning this person said to me, “You really fit in with this family.  They all wear glasses and you do too.”

I have two eyes and two ears and two arms and two legs as well.  But whatever.  I didn’t say anything, but I think my look of disgust was enough.

But nothing is ever enough for white people.  Not introduction.  Not explanation.  No, I am supposed to wait for their validation to make me feel all better about my family.  I “fit in” with them; they don’t have to “fit in” with me.  It’s the problematic idea of who gets to convey acceptance.  In this situation, it is a white stranger who feels privileged enough to patronizingly “reassure” me that I fit in.  In my family.

And like with the white restaurant host, all the obvious signs are ignored.  There’s a big framed photograph of me on the wall.  A letter I wrote pinned to the bulletin board.  Flowers I brought in a vase.

And although my old folk probably once had an all-white family, that has  changed.  Other photos to attest to this as well.  Smiling multiracial babies.  A white bride with an Asian groom.   Hapa children.  Mixed families.  How did she feel about this?  I don’t know.  But the photo display tells me something.  And it would speak to other people as well, if only they could hear.  If only they engaged their critical thinking.  If only they had empathy.

And if you are with an old white person when that person dies, white people don’t think to say they are sorry for your loss.  Because they can never see what you had.

5 thoughts on “Who is family?

  1. This just makes me so sad. When my kids were little, people used to ask me, “Are they ALL yours?” Sometimes they’d even ask me twice, in case maybe I’d made a mistake about the brown kids calling me ‘Mama.’ I’m sorry this happened to you.

  2. Not that it helps, but I’ve had the same problem with myself and my Asian sons. Including an Asian man at Costco trying to physically take my son from me. He no longer works there.

    Sorry for your loss. And damn, that must really get old being treated like that.

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