Are you….?

language, race, Society, Taiwan

Most of the masseuses in Taiwan are blind, and the hospitals, especially those run by a religious group will often set aside a space for them to practice their profession. The other day, I was waiting to see the doctor at the local hospital, and decided to get a massage.

The masseuse realized my English was better than my Chinese and asked me where I was coming from. I replied, United States of America.” He turned to a seeing woman next to him and asked her what I looked like. Specifically what the color of my skin was (I could comprehend that much despite my poor language skills), then he turned to me and said, Are you White?” what reply was he expecting me to give? Yes that I was White, so should be treated better. But he already knew the answer, so was he testing the truthiness” of a non-White person? I told him no, I was browner than the brownest Taiwanese, and that the US had many people of different races and colors, and America should not be equated with being White, it was a big diverse country. I was suddenly in possession of language skills that normally elude me.

These days I have made it a point to say Meiguo’ when I get the where are you from’ question, not because of any perversion of patriotism, but rather to do my small bit in undermining the idea of a monocultural world (Taiwan has immigrant workers who are largely invisible and a huge number of foreign brides from China, Vietnam and Indonesia). I can remember the time when I first saw Do The Right Thing” at the USIS in New Delhi. It was a revelation, I had never seen a movie where Black people were the main characters, and not servants or completely invisible. This was in 1989, which is not that far in the past.