While Ordering Souvlaki
M. Ocampo McIvor
My turn is up at the souvlaki place, and the guy taking orders asks me, “What are you?”
What am I?
“You speak good English,” he says. He crosses his arms along his hefty chest, chin up so he’s looking down at me from the tip of his nose while he waits for my answer.
“What do you mean? Like, am I a student? Do I get a discount?”
He softens his stance, chuckles a little. “No, like, are you Chinese? I don’t think you are, that’s why I ask.”
“Well, do I get a discount?”
“Japanese! You’re Japanese. Tell me what you are, and I’ll give you more rice.”
I knew what this was about all along, but I wanted to mock him somehow, make him feel a bit of shame. I should walk out, but I waited almost 20 minutes to be served and my lunch hour is dwindling fast.
“I’m Filipino,” I finally tell him.
“Ah… My next guess was Mexican. You look a bit Mexican, yeah? Not so much Chinese, you know. That’s why I ask.”
Every Asian is Chinese, unless you’re Indian. And every brown-skinned Latino is Mexican, unless you’re fairer than average and they don’t hear you speak Spanish. Native Americans stump white people; it’s only when they see you in suede and feathers that they recognize you as Native. Blacks are easy: you’re darker than most brown people and usually have a head of tight curls, and regardless of where you’re from you’re labeled African-American. All other brown-skinned people with uncannily white features and dark hair are Muslim and, of course, terrorists.
The guy is now harassing the brown dude next in line after me, talking about Allah and ISIS. The brown dude scrunches his face and shakes his head, but orders anyway. Like me, he probably figures he waited too long not to get the food he came here for, so he puts up with it.
“Eh, Tino, give this girl more rice!” he shouts toward the kitchen, then winks at me. “More rice for you, ah? You’ll like.”
I’m now standing in the corner with others waiting for our orders. I can feel the discomfort of the white people, who pretend not to hear.
“If you say so,” I tell him with an acid smile. I don’t want to say how I really feel. I don’t want to find spit or snot or a dead cockroach in my lunch.
“Don’t worry, I’m not racist. My good neighbor, he’s Paki. Great guy. We get along good. And you, I’d date you, you’re pretty. See, ah? Told you I’m not a racist!” He grins, and his gold tooth flashes in the sunlight.
“Nope,” I say, and nod in agreement to appease him.
M. Ocampo McIvor: "I was born in the Philippines and raised in Toronto, Canada. I currently live in Seattle where I worked for several tech companies before following the call back to literature."