Identity and Prejudice

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My girlfriend and I circled the food vendors at a street fair in Oakland's Chinatown, waiting like vultures for the closing time barbecue specials. As we stuffed our faces, we reveled in the confidence that no one would mess with us about eating dogs.

Earlier in the week I'd been at some dive bar in San Francisco's heavily Asian Sunset District, when some 50-something non-Asian man started talking about Chinese people eating dogs. The conversation turned to double-parking, then to a Chinese guy who had allegedly run over and killed an Irish guy. His family bought him a ticket to China in an attempt to help him flee.

With five minutes, the conversation had covered Chinese grocery shoppers creating traffic problems in weekends; how their loud talking, which sounds like fighting, wakes people up; and how unclean it is when markets throw the dog carcasses into the streets. (Of course, we don't buy dogs from a market - we steal them from neighbors.)

When I was in middle school, my non-Asian friend's dad used to taunt us about the evils of pot. He'd say it would make us dumb, give us munchies and make us fat. When I was at their house, he would joke about me having munchies so bad that I would eat their dog, and "it doesn't help that it makes your eyes small."

Back then, I kept quiet. At the bar, my Filipino-American friend and I objected. Both of us carry the dog burden, and neither of us have ever tried it (though I did recently eat Bugs Bunny for the first time at a rustic French restaurant).

Which brings me back to the fair in Oakland. It was great to see so many ethnic groups getting together. Not all Asian groups get along, contrary to the belief that we're all the same. Also, I like to buy from fellow Asian-Americans whenever I can, since there have been business owners in my family. I bought Pokemon toys and some lighters, satisfied that my money wasn't funding the real quality-of-life threat - another chain drug store in my yard.

Most street fairs, like everything else, don't reflect my ethnic background. A lot of times - whether I'm in a bar, restaurant, or on vacation - I'll be the only Asian. Sometimes people give me strange looks, or stop conversations when I pass by.

I wouldn't say most people's prejudices go that far, but it's happened often enough that I'm always afraid of people I don't know being racist towards me. Sometimes it's subtle, like earlier in the week when a bank teller in Mill Valley remarked that my girlfriend's name was "unusual," though I've heard it plenty of times.

So, at the Chinatown street fair, it was comforting to relax and not be "that Chinese guy." As the crowd gravitated towards the half-price barbecue, I enjoyed hearing people argue in the language my grandmother uses to offer me food

(c) Yo!, San Francisco