For the last three years, I lived in Iowa City, IA.
The state with a lot of corn.
The state where the movie “Field of Dreams” took place.
The state where I experienced my first covert racism.
It was a saturday afternoon, Game Day for the Hawkeyes and I didn’t give a shit because I don’t care about sports or football. On this particular saturday afternoon, I was craving Thai food. Now, in Iowa City, there are only a handful of Asian cuisines. Chinese and Japanese are the most popular. People either want fast and cheap or expensive and “healthy”. I put healthy in quotes because most people think sushi is healthy. Nigiri Sushi, probably yes. Rice and protein; sure. SPECIAL ROLLS are not. Special Rolls are almost always covered in spicy mayo sauce and fried tempura to mask that “fishy” flavor that you all probably don’t want when you go to Japanese restaurant. Are you kidding, America?
Anyways, back to the story.
I was at a Thai restaurant called Thai Flavors. It’s not the best but it’s the best Iowa City has to offer for a Korean American girl from California. I ordered my meal, ate it, and finished only to realize that I had forgotten my wallet. Fortunately, my waitress was nice enough (AND trusted me) to let me go home and get my wallet and come back. (I left her my backpack with my computer.) I called a cab to pick me up at the restaurant. It was hard to grab a cab on game day because everyone in the entire city was out and was using cabs. Nobody likes to walk. Walking is terrible for young twenty-something year olds.
The cab driver that picked me up was this big buff white guy. I mean, he was really buff. Maybe not so much buff as he was chubby. But, he was big. The Paul Bunyan kind. Imagine, Paul Bunyan driving a yellow family mini van. That was my taxi driver! He asks me where I was heading and I start babbling about how I had forgotten my wallet and needed to grab it from home and then come back to the restaurant to pay for my meal. Blab. Blab. Blab. The cab driver nods and responds by saying, “Oh, that’s nice of them to let you go. Did you speak to them in their native tongue?”
Now, it was obvious that he asked me this out of pure ignorance. I never in my entire life experienced this kind of situation. My mind doesn’t register because for two seconds, I forgot I was Asian. Because, let me tell you, when you feel like you’re the only Asian in a small Midwest town and all your friends are white American, you start to believe you’re anything but Asian. My mind also starts to think about my waitress. She’s white. And I start asking myself, “Wait, is he asking if I spoke in her native language of whatever her genetic makeup is? Well, is she American or English? Welsh? Does he think I’m Thai? ” This is just where my mind is going because I’m just always confused about race in general. But I didn’t want to offend anyone, considering I should be the one offended but I wasn’t. I was simply confused. I replied to my cab driver, “Yeah, she spoke English really well”. Okay. Cool. I responded in such a way that i never had to refer to anyone’s race. That’s pretty general. Good job me. Good job.
The cab driver looks at me and I look at him. I think deep down we were all fucking confused. More so me than anyone else because he’s in another time and decade. We’re sitting in silence for a really long time and I’m an awkward person. I almost always don’t know what to do with myself. I’ll start tap dancing or describe an orange. Anything that I think will help me feel less awkward but ends up making it more awkward. After about a solid one minute of silence I just say, “I’m Korean-American”. At this point, all context is lost and I’m just stating my ethnicity. But the cab driver nods at me and smiles like I just solved the greatest mystery of mankind.
I’ve never had this happen to me in California. I’ve experienced explicit racism where other races (i.e. Mexicans, Chinese, etc) have made fun of me being Korean but I made fun of their race as well. I think it was how we let us be ourselves. Never out of hate, just humor. But, I’m sure that’s not always the case for everyone but it was for me. But In Iowa? I found myself in situations where I was so confused of who I was and how I saw myself because the people around me were either too politically correct or just purely ignorant.
Wouldn’t it be so cool if no one gave a fuck anymore?
We wouldn’t care if Emma Stone was playing an Asian in Aloha!
So, I propose a solution to all of this is that we need to sleep with everyone and become ethnically ambiguous.
We need to become an entirely new race of humans. That is all. And then go extinct… but become genetically modified. I saw Jurassic World. Spoiler Alert: everyone dies… or do they?
Anyways, this is my Asian American experience post. Gotta have one of these after every two or three posts so people could just get it.
The moral of the story is: Iowa City, you need to be more diverse in food and restaurants. I would like to see an Ethiopian restaurant someday.
Until next time,