Yesterday, as I was walking home, a disheveled, bearded white guy walked right past me, turned around, and started talking in very bad Hindi to me. “Namaste… śubh sandhyā…” (Read: Hello. Good evening.) He was harmless, and probably spent some time in India… from his looks, probably in an ashram. But I was in a part of town, while not unsafe, was unlit at 7 PM. I didn’t appreciate any strange, smelly guy trying to talk to me in the dark. I said Namaste back, and laughed as I ran away.
That would be the end of the story, if I didn’t learn anything things from this interaction. Turns out, I processed it later. Darn. The post must continue. Sorry, guys.
Two takeaways from this situation were:
- He assumed that I could speak Hindi. (Psst… sadly, I can’t…) While I understand my mother tongue relatively well, embarrassingly, my speaking ability rivals his. We could have spent some time speaking very broken, heavily accented Hingish to each other… that is, if we weren’t on a dark, unlit sidewalk; and
- Well, at at least got my mother region right…
Anyone that knows me can tell (I hope) that I’m Indian. My skin and eyes are brown. My hair may throw people off… it’s somewhat blond at the moment due to summer sun damage, but the black is growing slowwwly back. I’m short like most Indian women. I possess an ample backside like most Indian women. My features are quite stereotypical for an Indian woman.
But I’m brown. And apparently all brown people look alike. Even to brown people…
People who should know better (i.e., Iranians, Egyptians and Mexicans…) attempt to speak to me in Persian, Arabic… and Spanish? (Yes, in Texas, Mexicans regularly come up to me and start babbling away, not realizing that well, not only do I not speak Spanish… I am not from Mexico, Central or South America. I have never even been to Spain. No hablo espanol…) Aside from the Hispanic issue, Most people will assume that I am from Iran or Afghanistan before they will guess India…
Indeed, Iranians, Afghanis and Indians are all the same ethnicity (Indo-Aryan), but there are definite regional physical differences between us. Although it’s not the rule, women from Iran and Afghanistan are lighter skinned and eyed than Indians. And our features… well, are just “different.” For the most part, we do not look alike. At least not to me.
It’s frankly embarrassing when start speaking to me in their native languages, and I have to tell them that I don’t understand them. They always laugh nervously, and if they speak English, we always have the conversation below:
Them: “So where are you from?”
Them: “No… where are you FROM from…”
Me: “Well, my parents are from India…”
Them: (long pause) Oh.
But before I jump off my high horse, turns out, I’ve goofed too. When I met one of my (now) close friends, I immediately assumed she was Latina due to her blue eyes. Turns out her family is from South India. FML. We laugh about it now… sort of.
It is sad that some random white guy can get it right. But we brown people can’t. What does that say about us? We can be racist too? Well, I already knew that…