Friday, August 31, 2007

Western Eyes

A friend sent me a link to a very disturbing surgery that is apparently taking place in record number in a suburb of Atlanta, GA. It is called "Westernization Blepharoplasty" otherwise known as "double-eyelid surgery"--otherwise known as Asians/Asian Americans who lack a double-fold in their eyelid undergoing elective surgery to cut their eyelids, creating a fold which also makes their eyes look rounder, more "white." For the link to the disturbing video, click here:

About 20 years ago this was a semi-popular trend among Asian Americans to enhance their "caucasian" features. I suppose it's not so much enhance as to give them the illusion that they could see out of white-eyes.

I'm not sure what else to say about this, other than I wonder if this is happening in other places--I would be surprised to hear about this being popular in California or New York or other urban areas, but perhaps I'm wrong. I also wonder if the state of Asian Americans in the South is comparable to Asian Americans in the 1960s and 1970s--that a lack of critical mass along with a historic and traditional entrenchment of white-values has created this desire for Asian Americans to achieve whiteness however they can. Of course class plays into this--after all, refugees from Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia living in the Atlanta area are probably not getting elective eye surgery. What seems saddest of all is the belief by the woman interviewed in this piece that beauty is dependent on this surgery--that caucasian feature are, in fact, more beautiful, pleasant, and desired than Asian.

Maybe someone can do an intervention and lock her in a room with Margaret Cho, some documentaries by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena, and loads of Asian American studies texts and literature. Asian American self-hatred is so ugly.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Gay Penguins

Yesterday a children's book, And Tango Makes Three (2006), once again made news when conservative parents in Missouri became concerned that children would have access to this book and its message condoning a queer lifestyle. The book, based on actual events at a NYC zoo, tells the tale of Silo & Roy, 2 male penguins, and their adoption of a fertilized egg and their subsequent raising of the baby penguin chick. Some parents and organizations want to ban the book or at least move it to the "adult" section. Some librarians are not budging on continuing to categorize the book as children's literature, while others have moved it to the "non-fiction" section since it does deal with actual events. For a UK take on the whole "controversy" see this link to a Guardian article.

This kind of stuff makes me crazy. It's a story about 2 penguins who raise a family together--it is a story about adoption, about love, about penguins--don't people like penguins???!!! Isn't this the heart of family values? (sigh)

I could go on and on about the intolerance of the conservative right, about how we need to champion and advocate for alternative family structures, but I think really my posts have been too long lately so I'll just let everyone muse on this and encourage everyone to go out and buy a copy of And Tango Makes Three -- donate it to your local school library or give it to a friend with kids. Maybe that's one way we'll start to teach more tolerance.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Can I be racist?

When I took my first "race" theory class, an African American introduction to race class my Sophomore year at UCSB, our professor, Dr. Claudine Michel, discussed, at length, the difference between institutional racism and bigotry. Anyone could be a bigot, but racism as a unique form of discrimination, could only be wielded by those within the power structure of a given society. For South Africa during the apartheid era, this meant white Afrikaners. For Tibetans living under Chinese rule, this mean Chinese people (probably specific the Han majority). And for those of us living in the U.S. this meant white Americans. Therefore, I would tell my friends, people of color (and me in particular) cannot be racist.

And yet, theory only takes you so far. Because at heart, racism is about power--about people in situations of power choosing to use their race as a measurement of superiority against others. And so, although I agree, in general, with Dr. Michel's definition--and although that's how I tend to define racism--as part of an institutional power structure, the social (and racial) landscape is changing--slowly but surely. In Hawaii the dominant ethnic-racial group is Japanese American (with Chinese coming a close second). And definitely in different parts of the country, saying that just because the larger US society is white dominated doesn't mean that if you are white you always have access to this power structure or that if you aren't white, you don't. So while I think, in general, I don't have access to power and the force to discriminate at random and at will, I also think that especially given my relative (and relatively small) status as a University professor, I do have an amount of power I could exercise and therefore I could, in fact, discriminate against all non-Asian Americans (or non-people-of-color--shouldn't I just say white?) people, which would, in fact, make me racist. Or at least my acts racist.

Of course I'd love to hear other opinions on this.

Also, final note: It seems like this has become the word to watch out for lately--that in the last twenty or thirty years to call someone racist or level charges of racism becomes such a force--and that there has become a backlash against calling any but the most obvious and violent of acts and people racist (in other words, it's still OK to bash the Clan but less OK to start calling the Republican Party out, and even less OK to start calling out the Democratic nominees for some of their stuff). Which is why I tend to avoid the term. Not because I think it's not relevant--it is in so many small ways--so many unintentional racist acts by well meaning people--by progressive white liberals, by progressive-liberal African Americans, by progressive liberal Asian Americans. And yet, I do still think it's important for us to call things as we see them--we live in a world in which your chances of survival, if not simply daily comfort are greatly increased if you look white and better, still, if you are a straight man. There are still plenty of policies that are getting reworked in a different language that, at the end of the day, still spell out institutional power that target non-white Americans. Which, to me, seems racist.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I was talking with a friend the other day about the problems with affordable housing and racial demographics in our region. She works in issues of urban planning and race and recently was interviewed by a local newspaper about this problem. The reporter asked her why people should care about affordable housing in our town and she made a very clear and eloquent and logical argument about the problem of sprawl--it's something you see in California. Working class (and middle class) people are priced out of living in places like our college town and so move further out to more rural areas or more affordable housing areas, but their employment is still in our college town and so that creates this commuting situation. We can see this, locally, in the traffic corridor that has opened up between our college town & a more affordable rural town. Anyone familiar with California understands this dilemma all too well--as people are commuting 2-3 hours to their jobs in the Bay Area--and we aren't just talking blue collar jobs--there was an article in the NY Times a few years ago about high school teachers living out of RV's -- essentially homeless -- because they couldn't afford to live in the places where they were teaching on the Peninsula: Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Los Altos. So my friend's argument to the reporter was that although Orange County does have a lot of undeveloped land, it is imperative for the city planners to think through issues of affordable housing because it will impact traffic patterns and pollution and general quality of life for EVERYONE.

And I said that I thought that while I absolutely agree with her argument, I also thought there was an additional issue that we should think about--which is the social good of having a diverse population, in terms of race and in terms of class. Our discussion began because I mentioned the new green building that is going up--the Greenbridge Project (click here). I went on-line to look at the plans (they advertise homes in The New Yorker so you are going to get a sense of the price tag on these condo units) and the starting price for a one-bedroom is $450K and there are penthouse apartments on the top level that are over $1.5 million dollars.

The project is being heralded as one that will cater to local folk and be a "green" project--something that takes the community into consideration. But the location of the Greenbridge project is right on the edge of the Northside neighborhood--a largely African American community. And there is a serious question about gentrification going on. In fact, the lot where the Greenbrige project is being built used to have a lot of black-owned businesses--in particular, the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant.

The problem of affordable housing, as my friend described, is one of N.I.M.B.Y. (Not In My BackYard). No one wants affordable housing to be near them because they equate it with crime, with poverty, with litter/pollution, and lets be frank, with brown-skin people. Black and Latino poor people live in projects/the Ghetto and white poor people live in Trailer Parks. I had been thinking about NIMBY lately because my neighbors are selling their home, and it took them a good 3 months to find a buyer. When I mentioned my surprise at this to a friend, he said that he thought the mobile taco truck which comes 4 nights a week was a deterrent to potential buyers. And I was surprised--because my friend's comment was that people would be turned off by the "Mexican" clientele blasting their music at 1am. Now, while there are largely Latino people who come to the truck, they aren't the only patrons and they are certainly NOT blasting their music at 1am. In fact, I considered the truck to be a huge PLUS when I bought my house because who doesn't want to get great tacos at 10pm or have an alternative to cooking dinner. But I suppose I'm in the minority in more ways than one on this.

But here's the thing--shouldn't we want taco trucks in our neighborhood? And a mix of affordable homes, of condos but also duplexes and townhomes and single family homes that people can live in and where they don't have to have an hour commute to work? I do love living here, but it makes me feel sad that increasingly most of the people who have jobs at Southern U. just can't afford to be homebuyers in the town that employs them. Shouldn't it be a social value that we want real diversity? That we don't want the black neighborhood to disappear to a high-end, if "green" elite housing project? I'm just glad that that's NOT in my back yard.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Satisfied Citizens are Tolerant Citizens

There is a study in the Journal of Social Issues by University of Illinois researchers Ed Diener and William Tov that show a correlation between a person's "subjective well-being" and his/her attitude towards their government, military, and tolerance for racial others--here's a line from the abstract:

"Person-level SWB was associated with more confidence in the government and armed forces, greater emphasis on postmaterialist values, stronger support for democracy, less intolerance of immigrants and racial groups, and greater willingness to fight for one's country."

For a link to the abstract, click here:

Diener and Tov are quick to point out that just being happy doesn't mean you are blind to the problems of your society--and that especially the endorsement for peace is predicated on whether the conditions for peace exist where these people live.

But I guess, since I'm interested in all things race, what strikes me is the language--that it's not that they are more tolerant of racial others (the more positive way of putting this) but that they are "less intolerant of immigrants and racial groups"--and of course, it's very unspecific--who, exactly, do they mean by "racial groups"--those in the minority? Racial groups different, presumably, from the one that you find yourself in.

In other words, if I am living, as I am, in a fairly peaceable college town, where the effects of the war are filtered through, to me, by media outlets rather than my personal connection with anyone in Iraq or Afghanistan. And if I have a fairly high subjective well-being--if I'm happy--then I'm going to feel more positive about my government, be an advocate for peace (I suppose this means peace in the abstract as opposed to the likelihood that I will start a guerilla group to take over the government) and I will not look unkindly on my immigrant neighbors from Syria, Switzerland, or San Salvador and will feel less intolerance towards my non-Asian American friends and neighbors.

Getting through the mumbo-jumbo of social science jargon, perhaps what the researchers are trying to figure out is, if you are happy, personally, does this mean you are going to feel more happy towards others in a larger social sphere--the government, your neighbors, the topic of immigrants and racial others in general--does your personal happiness and well-being have social ramifications and benefits beyond just your own contentment?

I guess they are tentatively saying yes--which means, how do we make everyone happy? Especially, how do we get people to be happy without BUYING and VIEWING or NUMBING their way to happiness. Anyone...???

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Expanding Asian American Literature

Go out and read Monkey Hunting by Cristina Garcia. It's a good novel...wait, let me clarify. It's a good Asian American novel.

Yes. A Cuban American writer has written an Asian American novel. I wish I were teaching this year (OK, not really, I am SO GLAD I HAVE THIS YEAR OFF) because I'd include this on the syllabus, along with Chang-rae Lee's Aloft, David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars, and Ha Jin's Waiting and see what my students have to say about whether any of these qualifies as Asian American literature. Because, generally speaking, I (and many others) expect Asian American literature to be written by people who identify as Asian American and who write about experiences and characters which are Asian American. And yet, in all these examples, there is either a mis-match with the author's identity or the identity of the main characters.

I've been thinking a lot about Monkey Hunting and other novels by Cristina Garcia because I'm in the midst of writing a conference paper on the themes of globalization, the Asian diaspora, and this particular novel. And it's quite a departure from the two novels that came before, both of which feature Cuban American women, set largely in Cuba and NY/Florida. But the novel that Garcia just published this year A Handbook to Luck actually continues this theme of globalization since it follows three different characters from three different countries whose stories eventually intersect in Las Vegas (doesn't everything find its way to Vegas? Where else can you find Camelot, the Sphinx, and the Eiffel Tower in one place).

Anyway, Monkey Hunting follows four generations of a Chinese patriarch, Chen Pan, who arrives in Cuba in the mid-19th C. as an indentured servant and eventually escapes the sugar plantation to marry a mulatta woman. The novel takes place in 2 continents, 4 countries, 2 centuries, and references 5 different languages. But more importantly, it really expands the idea of Asian America--to include the Caribbean and hence to de-center English as the Diasporic language to which Asian American literature has always privileged--or put another way, to show the linguistic multiplicity of relying not simply on a binary English-Chinese translation and transculturation but a multiplicity of linguistic and cultural options. In the case of Monkey Hunting, it is Chinese-Spanish-English (with African and indigenous languages thrown in for good measure).

This novel broadens both our conception of what gets defined as "American" and who gets included in various diasporas, Chinese as well as Cuban. So at the end of the day, perhaps the most accurate description of this novel is that it is truly a work of globalization.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Since yesterday's post was about racial paranoia, I thought that I should reflect on some more positive aspects of race awareness, namely the many allies I have found in my years working on race issues. And I don't just mean other Asian American academics or people of color--I mean white allies. It's easy for me to forget how race is not a barometer for progressive thinking when I'm in the grip of racial paranoia--when I assume that just because I'm the only person of color in the room I will face misunderstanding or non-like minded people. But the truth is, I have found myself listening to some pretty racist stuff from people of color (I suppose an asterisk should be placed on whether or not people of color can be racist--a topic for tomorrow's post perhaps) and some extremely radical thought and action on race coming from white academics/activists.

I am specifically reminded of this after reading a post in Sociologist CN Le's blog (which I like VERY MUCH and would encourage everyone to check out--it's listed under "Blogs I like" in the sidebar) under his posting about "Job Satisfaction Among College Faculty." The article he cites is from Inside Higher Ed (click here for the article) and basically both Le and the article point to the issues that junior faculty of color and female junior faculty face with support at the department level. Universities have all sorts of diversity protocols and guidelines in place, but in terms of actual mentorship and real support, oftentimes women and faculty of color do not find themselves adequately supported in their march towards tenure.

And while I agree with both Le and the article, I also realize that I have been fortunate enough to be in a VERY supportive department. People have gone out of their way to be generous with me--taking me to lunch, showing me around campus, telling me about research opportunities, reading through fellowship materials, offering me advice about my career and my scholarship. And even outside my department, I have met so many wonderful people--and truly, as is evidenced by my post from yesterday, my racial radar is always tuned to the highest frequency, but with very few exceptions, I have to say that Southern U is a place where I absolutely feel supported and welcomed and valued -- and that the really tricky balancing act that has been accomplished is that people recognize and value the diversity factor that I bring (both in my research and my person) and totally ignore it. It's like that Pat Parker poem, "To the white woman who wants to know how to be my friend...the first thing you should do is forget I am black. The second thing you should do is never forget that I'm black" (I'm loosely paraphrasing). In other words, the tricky thing when you are a person of color who works on race in a largely white department, is that you want your colleagues to recognize that you are bringing something new to the table that is valued -- that you are adding diversity in many ways. But you also want to be treated just like the junior faculty in Shakespeare Studies or Antebellum Lit.

I know, from the article and from anecdotal evidence from friends, that not everyone has been as fortunate. That there are real institutional barriers in place at many schools that prevent junior faculty from feeling part of the community, whether due to issues of race or gender (or sexuality for that matter). Which is why it IS important that we recognize that there are subtle forms of privilege that exist all the time, which is why I think I do feel bouts of racial paranoia and hypochondria.

Anyway, I wouldn't be here without the many allies, of color and not. And truthfully, it is the white allies in my life, especially the fierce white female academics who were such wonderful role models for me at the many universities I've studied/taught at, who have really been inspirational for me--women who study race, class, gender, and sexuality TOGETHER, showing the many intersections of these identity vectors. So here's just a little note of appreciation to the many people who have mentored me throughout the years. THANK YOU!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Suffering from Racial Paranoia

Somewhere in this blog I've discussed racial hypochondria, the term I came up with for the feeling when you are being "oversensitive" about race, it's a bit different from paranoia, because with hypochondria, oftentimes these are people who have suffered from illnesses in the past and are therefore over-sensitive to issues related to their health. Similarly, with racial hyponchondria, these are people who have experienced racism or race related incidents that means that they are looking for similar experiences to happen to them.

However, what I experienced yesterday was a clear case of racial paranoia and not hypochondria, because there was really no basis in reality for my feelings, other than my own hyper-awareness to issues of race.

Yesterday my boyfriend and I went to a new French restaurant. We had about a 10-15 minute wait and so we went to the bar to get a drink. The bartender (who turns out to also be the co-owner of the restaurant) was busy engaged in talking to another couple at the bar and seemed to not recognize that we were interested in ordering drinks. Admittedly bad service, but for some reason, as we kept getting ignored (and after about 10 minutes had passed) I looked around the restaurant (it's a small place, about 50 diners) and realized I was the only visible non-white person in the whole place. And so then, I started to think, "is this because I'm Asian?"

Anyway, we eventually got our drinks, eventually (30 minutes later) got seated, and eventually received poor service from our waiter (who had to be asked to bring bread to the table and reminded to refill our water glasses). Overall I wasn't impressed with our meal or the service, but the truth is, although I continued to be the only non-white visible person in the restaurant, I believe the problems were inherent with the restaurant and not with the reaction to me because I was Asian and not white. And yet, that feeling persisted. I knew it was irrational, but I couldn't help *feeling* that my discomfort was linked to this racial difference.

And then today, as I was relating this to a friend, I realized that my feelings probably had a lot to do with the comparison between being, recently, in Toronto and California--places in which racial diversity is rampant and, in particular, Asian Americans (Canadians) are a visible and sizable presence. It just so happened that I was with my friend at an Urgent Care clinic (no worries--it was just a sprained ankle for her) and the doctor that she saw was South Asian (Indian to be precise) and so there we were, three Asian American women in a Southern state. And I felt right at home at that moment.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Yesterday I went to a pre-orientation camp for rising college freshmen--I was invited to represent my department and to answer questions for students after all other faculty had done their brief introductions. At the picnic table where I met with students there was one kid who I think I would describe as a misfit. He sat apart from the other students working on a book of sudoku puzzles. I didn't even know he was sitting behind me (all the students were ringed around me, so I had my back to this particular student) until he spoke up to tell me that he hated Jane Smiley (I had mentioned that she was one of my favorite authors). He was socially awkward, to say the least, never made direct eye contact with me or anyone else, and the entire time he discoursed about his contempt for Smiley, he kept his eyes riveted on the sudoku puzzle book, only once looking up, to glance at us all, and then he started fingering the strap of the purse that was sitting on the table (which happened to be my purse, and which made me feel weird to see him worrying the strap back and forth between his fingers).

The look on the students' faces around me told me that his behavior had been consistent during the camp--or at least, he seemed to have been branded the "misfit" by everyone. Certainly, his behavior at that moment seemed to cast him in this light. And weird as his behavior was (certainly his outburst about Smiley seemed strange and a bit hostile) I also felt an extraordinary amount of concern for him. Because he was here, at this camp, with these 149 other rising Freshmen, and he clearly had some social anxiety issues--and yet, I'm sure there is a part of him that wanted to be connected to everyone else, even as his own behavior prevented him from doing that. I don't know whether his participation in the camp was from his own desire or his parents' insistence--perhaps they wanted to give him as many opportunities to socialize with his peers as possible. All I know is that he was regarded, by these same peers, as an oddity. And I could forsee some difficult times ahead for him.

But perhaps he'll also be OK. I'm not exactly sure why I'm choosing him to write about. Maybe because he demonstrated, in such a clear way, behavior that I often feel I mask. Being a misfit. Not knowing how to say the right thing. Feeling hostile of your environment but longing, at the same time, to conform and be liked and be acknowledged as just like everyone else.

I guess I think about this in terms of race, a lot, because especially at this camp, students of color were definitely in the minority (I counted about half a dozen African American students, and maybe a dozen Asian American and Latino students, which would mean 25 students of color out of 150, but of course judging by phenotype alone is a very imperfect measure, and I also may have missed a few students in the back rows). While the student I describe above (who is white) may have been socially awkward due to various factors (perhaps he has a learning disability, perhaps he has aspbergers, perhaps he was having a bad day) I do wonder about the fact that he was clearly labeled as a misfit at that moment--he didn't fit in. And how often do we start to label people, who don't "look" like they fit in? The snap judgments we make based on what people are wearing, their accents, their scents, their facial expressions. Add to this race--a visible, racial, difference, and it may be easy to see how being a person of color, a "minority" person in a majority white setting may make you feel like a misfit.

And yet, isn't there a little misfit inside all of us?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Haunted by Waters (a book plug)

Today a friend of mine told me about a book that is soon to be released by Professor Robert Hayashi, an acquaintance I *briefly* knew while I was doing a stint at Mount Holyoke College (Robert was finishing up his dissertation in American Studies at UMass Amherst). Anyway, his book, soon to be released by University of Iowa Press, is called Haunted by Waters and this is a description from the publisher:

"Even though race influenced how Americans envisioned, represented, and shaped the American West, discussions of its history devalue the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities. In this lyrical history of marginalized peoples in Idaho, Robert T. Hayashi views the West from a different perspective by detailing the ways in which they shaped the western landscape and its meaning.

As an easterner, researcher, angler, and third-generation Japanese American traveling across the contemporary Idaho landscape—where his grandfather died during internment during World War II—Hayashi reconstructs a landscape that lured emigrants of all races at the same time its ruling forces were developing cultured processes that excluded nonwhites. Throughout each convincing and compelling chapter, he searches for the stories of dispossessed minorities as patiently as he searches for trout.

Using a wide range of materials that include memoirs, oral interviews, poetry, legal cases, letters, government documents, and even road signs, Hayashi illustrates how Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian, all-white, and democratic West affected the Gem State’s Nez Perce, Chinese, Shoshone, Mormon, and particularly Japanese residents. Starting at the site of the Corps of Discovery’s journey into Idaho, he details the ideological, aesthetic, and material manifestations of these intertwined notions of race and place. As he fly-fishes Idaho’s fabled rivers and visits its historical sites and museums, Hayashi reads the contemporary landscape in light of this evolution."

It sounds like a very interesting book, and on a professional/academic note, I am interested in seeing how he incorporates his own personal reflections and family memoir into this study of the American West and race relations. Although I haven't read it yet, it has a compelling premise--to think about the ways in which race has always been a part of our understanding of the American landscape, both its geographic terrain as well as its social topography. I think it's easy to think of places that seem largely *white* and absent of people of color and imagine that they were always all-white spaces or not to realize that whiteness is a itself a racial category, one often marked by its difference to others. Anyway, I think the book looks promising and if you are in the mood for something that combines the personal with the academic, this may be a good read.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tu parles francais? Bien sur!

I speak 3 languages. Wait--I should probably add a few caveats to that. I am, of course, fluent in English (although recently when I tried to convince a younger cousin that "winningest" was a real word, he told me that I had lost all credibility with him as an English professor). As for the other two languages I have familiarity with--Spanish and French--well, if you plopped me down in the middle of either Mexico or Montreal, I'd probably get by OK. More than OK in Montreal since last time I checked they also speak English there.

And that's the topic of this post. Bilinguialism or more precisely multi-linguialism. Because one of the things that truly impresses me about Toronto (in addition to the plethora of fabulous and diverse ethnic food and their forward thinking environmental policies) is that their signs are in both French and English. And in the suburbs of Markham and Richmond Hill, there are several signs in both English and Chinese characters or English and Arabic or English and Hindi. There really is true linguistic and ethnic-national diversity in Toronto. Perhaps due to the less draconian immigration policies. Perhaps because urban areas tend to attract diverse and multilinguistic communities.

But it's more than just being in an urban area and having people speaking different languages. It's the attitude, at least the official attitude, of Canada's government that privileges dual language fluency, in this case, English and French. All of my Canadian cousins were required to take French classes while in school. I wish we had a similar governmental and educaitonal attitude in the U.S.--and that it started at a young age, like kindergarten. I'm not saying that dual linguistic ability equals tolerance or open-mindedness, but at minimum, a government, a nation-state that affirms the value of multilingualism is a country that acknowledges that they aren't just living in a national bubble--that we are people who desire communication with other nations and communities.

I don't think the U.S. needs to replicate Canada's model of English and Spanish. How about just English plus? English plus a second language--Spanish, Mandarin, Farsi, German, Sign language, Arabic, Japanese, Italian, Latin--just fluency in another language, begun at a young age, like 5, and going up through middle or even better high school. That language becomes as important as science. Wouldn't that be a wonderful message to send to people?

Thursday, August 2, 2007


I'm leaving for Toronto today for a cousin's wedding, and I'm really looking forward to the trip. I haven't been to Toronto in over 8 years. And because I'm headed to Toronto, I'm reminded about an incident that happened to me at a conference.

I had been talking about my Chinese Jamaican family (most of whom live in Toronto) and this woman (an older, white woman) turns to me and says:

HER: "I don't mean to offend you, but I'm wondering if you can answer a question."

ME: (bracing myself) "OK"

HER: "I recently returned from Toronto and noticed a lot of Asians there. And it's not that I have anything against miscegenation. But many of them were mixed. And I was just wondering, why can't they keep pure? They have such a lovely culture--why aren't they proud of who they are? Sometimes the mixture looks fine but other times it's so awkward. Why can't they keep to their purity."

ME: (mouth slightly agape, completely at a loss of what to say and fully aware of how careful I have to be because the woman sitting next to me is actually the wife of a colleague. And yet I think, this is my moment to speak truth to power, but then I wonder, is this an educational moment, and then I just feel dumbfounded and what runs through my head is, "REALLY???!!! You're actually saying this to ME???!!! THIS IS SO RACIST, AND I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU ARE SAYING THIS TO ME! PURITY??!! HITLER TALKED ABOUT PURITY???!!! What should I do? Tell you I'm going to get on this problem right away? That I'll be sure to issue a letter or proclamation to the Asian citizens of Toronto informing them that if they were attractive and could ensure attractive looking mixed-race progeny then it's OK to go ahead with their miscegenation project, but otherwise, stick to your race???!!! And miscegenation?! Who uses that word anymore?! That word has such a controversial connotation--rooted in a history of race baiting. Couldn't she at least have said *interracial*?")

ME: Uhhhh...Yeah....there are a lot of Asians in Toronto.

[the next speaker gets up to the podium to show a power point presentation, the lights go down, and I barely pay attention because I'm kicking myself the whole time about my lame response]

Anyway, maybe I'll look into that proclamation when I get to Canada. After all, we wouldn't want any awkward looking miscegenated Asian people running around Canada. After all, they're not pure.