Oh boy. I had a very interesting experience at my internship last week. It makes me wonder what is really going through other peoples’ minds when they first meet me. I won’t go into details about the setting for privacy’s sake, but I was confronted by a client twice regarding my race. The conversations went something like this:
“Well, you know how to make stir-fried rice, don’t you?”
“Oh, I’ve never actually made it before.” (True story.)
“What? Oh girl, I KNOW you know how to make fried rice.”
“Hey, what’s your last name?”
“[insert my dad’s very English surname].”
“Get outta here. Really?”
“Yeah. You seem surprised.”
“Yeah, well, I was expecting something like Chaw, Chang, Ching or whatever.”
I wasn’t completely blindsided by what happened, but I wasn’t expecting it, either. The experience really made me think again about how others view me. Most of my life I essentially felt like a white girl trapped in an Asian girl’s body. To be frank, it’s kind of like wearing a really padded bra: false advertising. What you see is not what you get. The vast majority of people that I meet never question my name or any other characteristics about me that might not ‘add up’. However, their silence does not necessarily mean they’re not wondering. And I honestly don’t care if people wonder. Wonder away! I really don’t even care if people want to be direct and ask me about my background. I could say, “None of your business” to inquirers, but this is who I am and I feel no need to hide it. If you don't know that children have been and continue to be adopted by families of a different race than them, well, time to start learning!
The workplace is a different story. In my professional work, there is no reason for clients to know the details of me being transracially adopted. I will only share personal information if I judge it to be beneficial for the client. In this most recent encounter, there was no perceived benefit and, really, the client was just trying to get a rise out of me. I can’t say that it worked. I wasn’t upset or hurt at all, actually. More than anything, I was surprised. One thing that can be said about my profession (social work) is that I need to expect the unexpected. This will not be the last of my experiences like this at work or otherwise. As a transracial adoptee, I cannot take for granted what I bring into the room and how I present when I am with new people. I can talk, act, dress, live my life in any number of ways that I want, but through it all I will always have my Asian features and that is one of the first things if not the first thing people will notice about me. What they think from there is anyone’s guess.