Why I feel weak around my family
I’ve noticed that whenever my parents and I go anywhere from a vacation in another state to a grocery store trip, I feel responsible for teaching them the correct etiquette for dealing with Americans. I say “dealing with” because my parents were never allowed to “be” Americans in their countryside cities and bible-belt homes. I try to make our family invisible so no one is offended. I’ve had my father feel completely baffled when one day at Brookshires (a grocery store similar to Safeway), I stopped him from drawing the attention of a woman I knew. She was working behind the register, and I had gone to high school with her daughter, Kim. Kim and I were never good friends; we were barely friends, but her mother always greeted me with a warm smile when she rang my groceries up. So what’s the problem, right? The problem is that I have always felt that I was getting looked at or noticed. No, I’m not saying I’m a stunning visual masterpiece; I mean my color and my hair, my ethnicity, those things attract attention, and seldom is this positive attention. My father plays up the role of a jolly man, and I feel that when White people talk to him, they do so in a deprecating fashion, as if he is an outsider who is trying to copy their jolly, comfortable ways. However, at home, as long as I’ve known my father, I’ve known him to be serious. Hell, I inherited his seriousness. So, when he was ready to walk up to Kim’s mom and chat with her like they were on an equal playing field, I knew better. I knew that according to school politics, Kim was on a higher rung than me because she was white. I knew that in Tyler, Texas (my hometown), she would continue to be on a higher rung than me, to be on the inside, while I tried to figure out my identity on the fringes. That was probably the second reason why I didn’t let my father talk to kim’s mom; I was angry and bitter. Don’t get me wrong. Not much has changed; I am still angry and bitter. I still see how my mother’s shalwar kameez is stared at. I still notice how people call her pants “Aladdin Pants.” I hear the words “sand trash” used to describe us when we are confused to be Arab. (For the record, I’m not down with using that derogatory term for anyone). I mean, it’s come to the point that I have no idea where my confidence went. I feel like at any moment, someone’s going to say something racist or disrespectful to my five foot two, forty-two year old mother, and I’m going to woman up and get involved. What if I stutter? What if we get into a fight? What if I lose? That’s the hardest one. If I lose, then does this mean that the South Asian minority will continue to be trampled upon? Will I always feel like I have to be invisible to be safe? My father once told me that this was the way when a girl at school bullied me incessantly. He said, “Just become invisible.” No dad. Not anymore. I will no longer accept being the other, being exoticized, or being reduced to a minority because I’m a “person of color.” White is a color too. I don’t know how I’ll go about this, but I do know that if others’ subtle or outright racism makes me meek, then it steals me away from myself. America belongs to my family just as much as it belongs to a Caucasian family. My parents worked hard to establish themselves here, and I will not let my lack of confidence belittle what they have built.