Despite having been married to my husband (who’s in the USMC) for nearly 6 years now, we’ve only been living together for about half a year. Before living together, I lived in big(ger) cities… DC, Los Angeles, etc… and now I’m in New Bern, NC.
These things have happened to me:
- While being in a grocery store a white teenage girl stares at me for a bit, then whispers something to her mother, pointing me out. I make eye contact with them letting them know I see them talking about me. Apparently the teenager wanted to let her mother know that she thinks I am pretty.
- I walk into another grocery store on a different day, within two minutes an older white gentleman in an electric wheelchair approaches me and asks me where the tofu is. Me: “Um, I’m not sure, I’ve just walked into the store.” Him: “Well, it’s usually here.” Me: “I’m not sure what to tell you. Maybe you can ask someone who works here.” He wheels away. Within five minutes as I am looking at persimmons to purchase, a middle-aged white woman starts looking at the fruit too, then asks me how you eat it. I told her just like other fruit, like an apple or pear, you just eat it. She asks me, “So you can slice it up and eat it with cheese and crackers?” Me: “Um, I’m not sure, I’ve never had it that way before. I’ve just eaten it by itself.” Her: “But you can eat it with cheese and crackers?” Me: “I don’t know. Most Asian cultures don’t really eat fruit with cheese and crackers, so I’ve never had it that way. How would you eat a mango?” Her: “OK, well, I’m up for trying anything.”
- A new good friend (a fellow milspouse) expressed gratitude for us being friends, saying that she appreciated the fact that I am unapologetic about wanting to have a career.
- Fellow friends and folks in the same squadron watching and quoting Fox News and hating on the Obamas. Did anybody watch that bit before the Super Bowl game last night where they had Martin Sheen introduce a narration about our country and the Constitution then athletes, police departments, celebrities, and all sorts of people say patriotic things? Well, at the end of the segment Michelle Obama and Jill Biden said a piece about today’s military and promoted their Joining Forces initiative (which I absolutely support!), and as soon as they flashed on the screens there were all these friends (or should I say “friends”) of ours mocking the Obama and Biden. I mean, WTF?!?!?!
There are too many other perplexing moments for me to write about now, but I wanted to note this for preservation’s sake.
The reason I’m even noting these moments is that it captures how out of my element I am here, in the south, in the military community. The fact that I am Asian-American, and not white, sticks out. Sure, people are nice and polite, and I wouldn’t describe the above anecdotes as microaggressions really, and there was definitely nothing malicious to any of those interactions, but I can’t help but think that my yellow skin sticks out like a sore thumb here and white people here interact with me differently than anywhere else that I’ve lived. I think because I look (ahem) exotic to this area, people note my appearance more; whereas in bigger cities, I am just another plain jane or just another person in the sea of people, not “oh, an Asian person! She looks different! She’s a figure of authority about Asian foods, including where they are in the store! Let me ask her and not an actual employee of the store! Ooh!” Those moments make me cringe.
As for #3 up there… never in my life have I ever been in an environment where a career was not just assumed. I worked my ass off in high school to then get to a wonderful university, and I worked my ass off there. I graduated and started working with everyone around me just assuming these are stepping stones to what bigger thing I want to do next… law school, grad school, med school? do you want to work in politics? policy? research? etc.? … it was always expected that I, like everyone else around me, is working towards some career track. Then I went to grad school with the obvious goal of having a career in public health and social work. Assumed that I would have a career. So why now that I’ve moved to podunk NC to be a living-with-my-husband-military-spouse that having a career is something special to note?!?! That there are so few of us that we cling to each other and supportively acknowledge how refreshing it is to have another unapologetic career woman in our midst? (Note that the male spouses do not have to apologize for working.) This is who we are and this is what we want. There should be no apology. Period.
And #4 just makes me want to cry. I have to guard my beliefs and bite my tongue around ignorant assholes who are our friends/”friends” lest I become a pariah. The worst thing is that they don’t have real policy gripes, they just have Fox News talking points that are based on bullshit so you can’t even have a real conversation about anything (someone actually said he’s reading Bill O’Reilly’s book on the assassination of JFK because at least “Bill O’Reilly isn’t biased.” Um, WHAT?!?!?!?!). And besides, what could you possibly dislike about Michelle Obama and Jill Biden? The fact that they’ve tirelessly advocated for the wellbeing of military families? The fact that they work hard to have careers, hold their families together, and support their husbands? The fact that they care about things like nutrition and mental health? They are my role models and my inspiration for so many things, and it hurts when my friends/”friends” undervalue the people I admire.
I feel like I don’t belong here.