I frequently try to avoid going to Asian food stores because I am afraid that someone will try to speak to me in an Asian language and I will have to simply blink at them. I avoided going to a Korean grocery a mile away from my house for years because I was terrified that the owners would be able to sniff me out as a fraud from the instant I walked in.
Don’t worry, I also have irrational, self-centered neuroses that are related to neither race nor adoption.
Today I caught a bus and a middle-aged Asian man sat next to me and immediately started speaking to me in what I now think was Japanese or maybe Chinese. I did, indeed, simply blink for a few long seconds. Then I said, in English, Uh, um, I’m sorry, I don’t… He nodded and moved to the seat in front of me.
He looked over and asked me, in rather broken English, if I was from Japan. No, I said, Korea. He nodded and turned away.
I watched over the shoulder of his jean jacket as he pulled out a paper grocery bag covered in lettering. It was neatly folded in his canvas bag and held shut with a clothespin, as I discovered when I watched him put it away. He folded the side edge toward the middle and write on the newly exposed face. He began writing more; he wrote on all of the faces of the paper bag and it felt so mysterious but it was probably just a grocery list. So much of me wanted him to give me the bag in that moment, as though this random (Asian) dude would somehow be able to soothe what the incident had done to me. Like the bag-writing was the magical answer to all of the questions I could ever ask about being Asian.
Yeah, well, that didn’t happen. He waved goodbye as he got off the bus (actually, he did it twice), and I watched him do the same to the bus driver. Then I wondered if I was crazy for thinking that this encounter had sort of been a Moment, a weird mistake. A bizarre and searching flash of what kind of moment that could have been. I rarely experience Being an East Asian Person with Another East Asian Person. So maybe it was significant for me but that person was just thinking, Oh, that person must have no personality and is easily confused.
I spent time with friends later, people of color who were raised by their birth parents. I chose not to talk to them about it.