story time: when “African” is more important than “American”
a former coworker (W) and i were in Tokyo today at Sensoji, a major tourist trap in Asakusa that’s in every foreign EVERY guidebook ever. a place that i generally avoid except i was playing tour guide for the day. i was off somewhere snapchatting, as i do, and when i came back to where W was there was a random middle-aged Japanese man excitedly talking to him about where he was from (Colorodo). i’m standing there for a minute or two half listening to their convo while taking random photos, as i also do, when the man realizes that i’m with the guy he’s trying to chat up in broken English. he decides to do the same with me, except…
man: ooh, where are you from?
me: Las Vegas.
man: no, where??
me: Las Vegas…? America…? *confused as people generally know Las Vegas*
man: no no, where are you from long long ago??
me: *finally gets that he’s asking where my family (read: ancestors) are from only because this isn’t the first time someone has asked me this. plays ignorant anyway* America.
man: no no looooong looooong ag–
me: …yes, i’m African American.
man: YES YES, African…. like Obama!
me: yes, like Oba–
man: mulatto! Obama’s pare–
W: what’s “mulatto”?
man: -nts are African and white! you know, mulatto. do you know mestizo?? like mesti–
me: ……………. *no longer making much of an effort to hide how annoyed i am*
W: what? what’s “mestizo”??
man: *has noticed my annoyance* uhhhh– thank you! that is my English! *anxiously backing away while bowing repeatedly* thank you for free practice! thank you! have a nice day! *literally scurries off*
W: ….lmao i don’t know what just happened, but that went from 1 to 100 really quickly lmao
me: *hands W my phone with wiki article on ‘mestizo’ on it*
W: …oohhh. whoah, never heard of that word before.
me: ….mmhmm, i’m not surprised.
of course i also explained ‘mulatto’ to him. either way, today’s random conversation was yet another awkward conversation to add to my ever growing repertoire of awkward conversations that i’ve had in Japan. by now i have enough content to write a book out of it lol… white (former) coworker gets to field an awkward conversation about his hometown / state but as soon as the conversation turns to me, my hometown gets ignored in favor of focusing on my race with obligatory mention of Obama. don’t even ask me why he seemingly assumed i’m mixed to begin with…? is that how he thinks of slavery and African Americans in America today or?? but Obama??? maybe he was just referring to Obama, but either way that’s beside the point. sigh. never expected to add ‘mulatto’ or ‘mestizo’ to my list of “Random Foreign Shit That Somehow Made It To Japan Devoid Of Context” list.
i need a bingo card for this.