by: Mimi Nguyen
Note: This piece was written for the Story Club challenge on July 5, 2012 at Uncommon Ground on Clark in Chicago. It was performed for a live audience to great applause and offense.
Back in high school I was a stereotypical Asian. You know, I had more extracurriculars than I could count on both hands, I took only AP or honors classes, I played varsity badminton… I drove a Honda Civic. I also attended afterschool review sessions before each test and it was during one of these sessions that I learned something very important about myself.
Mr. Brown had just finished explaining stoichiometry when my friend Megan shook her pretty blond head and said, “I don’t get why we’re even trying to learn this. The Asian kids are going to blow the curve anyway.”
“Megan!” Mr. Brown’s eyes widened and then he pointed at me. “How could you say that in front of Mimi?”
Megan laughed. “Are you kidding? Mimi’s the most racist person I know.”
Now, I’m not the kind of racist who hates other people. I’m the kind of racist who likes to call her Caucasian stepfather her “white daddy” and her real father “Asian daddy.” Yellow daddy has too many syllables. Wait, no it doesn’t. It just sounds weird.
I also like to point out stereotypes and difference between Americans. For example, horse racing. What’s the deal with white people and horse racing? When my grandmother wants to feel fancy and gamble, she sells all her jewelry and drives to Vegas. When white people want to feel fancy and gamble, they put on Easter colors, walk through manure, and wear hats stolen from English royalty.
A couple months ago I was talking to my roommate about summer activities when she asked me, “Hey, when’s the Kentucky Derby this year?”
The question disoriented me. Partly because I don’t associate the derby with summer, but also because my roommate’s tone of voice was so calm and casual, as if we could be sipping mint juleps at any moment while a horse with a name the size of a sentence ran by.
I know other people besides white people attend the derby. Michael Jordan went one year. Was that also the year he tried playing professional golf?
My point is maybe one day I’ll go to a horse race, maybe even the Kentucky Derby, and I’ll understand the appeal. But for now, I’ll just have to ask, “Is it a white thing?”
I’ve been asking that question a lot in the past three years and I don’t know if it’s because I’m more curious or just getting more racist with age. Legitimate moments have prompted the question.
A year ago one of my white friends was getting married and she told me her mother’s friends were throwing her a second bridal shower, in addition to the one I was attending.
I asked, “Why are your mom’s friends throwing you a shower? They’re her friends.”
My friend said something like, “I don’t know. They want to? This is kind of a common thing.”
I made a face and asked, “Is this a common white thing?”
You see, I’m Vietnamese, and Vietnamese American girls try really hard not to invite their mothers, let alone their mother’s friends to bridal showers. First of all, in Vietnam, wedding traditions don’t involve bridal showers. This means older generations of Vietnamese women have no idea how to behave at these parties, so they revert to what they do best: criticize and talk about money.
When my Vietnamese cousin was getting married she broke tradition, planned a bridal shower, and registered her gifts at Macy’s. She made the mistake of inviting her mother and aunts. One moment summed up most of the shower: my aunt Mai gave one, not a set of two, but ONE monogrammed towel and said, “Oh! I just bought you one because they’re so expensive.” Subtext: “Girls born in America are so spoiled! We didn’t have towels in Vietnam! We had banana leaves! You and your husband can share the towel! I can’t believe you made me shop at Macy’s!”
There was another educational “white moment” in college when one of my friends invited me to a Pampered Chef party.
I was like, “Oh! A party! I don’t really get the theme though. Do we dress up in aprons and get our nails done?”
She laughed at me and said, “No. Pampered Chef is a brand and you invite their sales people to throw a party at your place using their stuff and then you buy kitchen tools from their catalogue. It’s like a Tupperware party.”
I’m pretty sure my face remained blank before I asked, “What the fuck is a Tupperware party?”
I have a confession. As much as I like to make fun of all you white folk, a large percentage of my closest friends are white, and if it wasn’t for the charity of white churches sponsoring my parents from Vietnam, I probably would never have been born. And honestly, I think white is such an easy color for me to see, because it’s a part of who I am. I’m what some people like to call a banana, yellow on the outside and white on the inside. I love Kraft mac n’ cheese, I grew up reading Marvel and DC comic books… I attend story telling events. I even put my name in for the raffle challenge.
Last week when I accepted the Story Club challenge, audience members were yelling topics full of potential. To the person who shouted, “Popsicles!” If you are here, I’d like you to know I have a very good fallacio story involving Otter Pops. To the person who shouted, “Margaret Cho!” You my friend, just like me, are a racist. To our host Dana Norris who chose the topic, “Horse racing.” Really? Isn’t that, like, a white thing?
Tien (Mimi) Nguyen is a former TriQuarterly Online Art Director, and nonfiction and fiction editor. She is currently pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction at Northwestern University. She contributes regularly to TriQuarterly Online and has worked for The Long Beach Press-Telegram, Runes Literary Magazine and The Iowa Review.