Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a chance for all of us to learn

·3 min read

I don’t take offense easily, and I am not quick to correct others. Why? Because I too need grace. As an American of Filipino ancestry, I’ve encountered many comments that could be seen as “micro-aggressions.” But most of the time, they are just clumsy attempts at conversation.

Like when a cashier picked up my package of spaghetti and said, “You really should be proud. The Chinese invented pasta, not the Italians.”

Suzette Standring, of Milton, writes the Bright Side column for The Patriot Ledger.
Suzette Standring, of Milton, writes the Bright Side column for The Patriot Ledger.

I said, “I’m not Chinese.”

She said, “Vietnamese?”

“No.”

“Japanese?”

“No.”

“Korean!”

I didn’t have time to take the grand tour of Asia so I said, “I was born in San Francisco, but my parents are from the Philippines.”

Clearly stumped, she whispered, “Please don’t tell my manager I said that. We could get into a lot of trouble saying someone is an Oriental when they’re not.”

I thought, “Hmm, Oriental. Now I’m a rug?”

But I smiled and winked, “Don’t worry, it’s in the vault.”

I found it hilarious, but when I posted on Facebook, the outraged comments surprised me.

“What a stupid racist!”

“You should have told her off!”

“Well, that could have been a valuable teaching moment and you blew it.”

The cashier was only trying to start a friendly conversation (albeit clumsy). Why would I yell at her?

Sometimes conversation openers are awkward. My husband was born in England, and years ago, there was a party for those studying to become American citizens. We didn’t know a soul at the celebration. Someone in a group asked me, “When are you taking your citizenship test?”

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a chance for all of us to learn, writes Suzette Standring in her Bright Side column.
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a chance for all of us to learn, writes Suzette Standring in her Bright Side column.

I pointed to David, “No, no, I’m Lucy, he’s Ricky.”

Once they got through their embarrassment, we had a great time. They learned about my background, which included a little history of the Philippines. More than 300 years under Spanish colonial rule forced Filipinos and the Chinese living in the Philippines to take on Spanish surnames. It’s why my mother and father’s last names are Alvarez and Martinez. Our new friends were fascinated. Maybe their opening question assumed I was not a citizen, but as strangers, they were trying to befriend us. Much appreciated.

In my opinion, ignorance is not bridged or remedied by making others feel stupid or guilty. Nowadays everyone is so quick to correct, to accuse, to condemn. Haven’t you ever embarrassed yourself? I sure have.

Like the time I was the only Asian at a big Irish funeral for a man I didn’t know well.

One of his cousins said, “Yeah, he really ignored his problem for too long.”

Another said, “It’s been a scourge in our family for generations.”

I asked, “So he died from alcoholism?”

“No, from diabetes.”

My stupid assumption and I were caught red-handed. I felt terrible; well, never again. As my Filipino mother would say, “The burned hand learns best.”

I give grace because I need grace.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a chance for all of us to learn.

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Milton resident Suzette Martinez Standring writes Bright Side, a good news column featuring information on the South Shore and the people who live here. If you have an idea for a future column, reach her at suzmar@comcast.net. Also, visit www.readsuzette.com.

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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is chance for all of us to learn