A couple of months ago, someone asked me how I have enjoyed the desert over my time here; and checked to see if I had done all the requisite desert activities; hiking, Joshua Tree, Salvation Mountain, Idyllwild…
I shifted in my seat, chuckling, and told him that Asian people don’t do any of those things. For the record, Asian people go to LA or San Diego for haircuts, grocery shopping, and Daiso. No, I told him, we depend on our white friends to take us to the places he mentioned… In fact, the only thing on that list I had done was Idyllwild, only the past weekend, and only because R took me.
He then joked that I was in good hands then, because you couldn’t get any whiter than R!
The comment made me uncomfortable, but what I did was smile and try to move on.
Later I told R about the situation; he chuckled about it and agreed, saying that he was, in fact, super white. I couldn’t smile and move on this time.
I don’t like it when white dudes rate each other’s whiteness. It’s a weird thing that majority people do, because they think about culture and ethnicity way, way less than those of us who have grown up as minorities.
Sometimes hearing white folks analysis of ethnicity is awkward; like letting a high school sophomore parallel park your car. Or like patiently listening to a fifth grader play Für Elise on the piano. We know it’s a big step for them, and we want to be encouraging, but if you ask us candidly, we are being patient. We are patiently waiting out the clumsiness.
I struggled for a while to figure out why it bothered me that one white guy was calling another white guy whiter. I wonder if somebody thinks of me as more or less Filipino American than my cousins (gross). I asked R if he would dare to rank the teachers in the Spanish department from most to least Mexican. The answer was no, he would not dare.
If R is more white than you, what does that make you? If you are less white than another white person, what are you more of? Can a white person’s whiteness be so small in measure that they are no longer white? What would you call a white person without whiteness?
I think this goes back to majority mentality. Majority people (of any society) do not think of culture and ethnicity as core to their identity; they think that deep down, they are just normal people, and that culture and ethnicity are added features. To them, I’m the same dish as they are, and my filipinity is some extra sauce, served on the side, a superficial difference.
That is a mentality that oppresses other people. It means that Asians cannot warm up their food in the lunch room. It means that Black people don’t get to wear their hair the way it grows naturally. It means that Mexicans expect that the cops will come to their birthday party with noise complaints. It means that Middle Eastern Americans regardless of religion should arrive at the airport early, factoring in extra time for a TSA inspection.
The majority culture ruthlessly enforces their idea of normal. The rest of us supposedly have constitutional rights, but not in these situations. Our food smells bad to them. Our hair is not professional to them. Our celebrations sound like trouble to them. We look like terrorists to them.
To them, going to Joshua Tree is perfectly normal. I’ve never been. Not even R wanted to take me with him.
I posed the question of comparative whiteness on Facebook and asked my friends to weigh in. There were a lot of good responses. The one that stood out the most was not necessarily about ethnicity: someone was tearing down R to make himself look better. Sure, it was intended as some light hearted teasing, but the impact was “yuck.”
First of all, you don’t talk about my friend.
Second, how are you going to use your own ethnicity to insult someone else? The Wonder bread is calling the mayonnaise “white.”
Driving up to Idyllwild, eating some hamburgers when you get there, and listening to some Bonnie Raitt music doesn’t oppress me. Making casual, light hearted jokes about who is whiter doesn’t oppress me either, but wow, it has bothered me for months, now.
Third and finally, you don’t talk about my friend.
So listen, I’ve told this story to several people to get their take on it. The majority of my white male friends who have heard the story chuckle about the situation, and add their own lighthearted take to it; they buy into and participate in the idea of the measure of whiteness.
My friends that are not white men; brown people and also white women, are across the board appalled, and immediately so. My white women friends are very quick to seize on the power dynamic of the situation; the fact that the “someone” in this story was actually our white supervisor, talking to one employee about the whiteness of another employee.
Anyway, none of the white men in this story are racists or white supremecists. None of them oppress me or intend to offend me. All of the white men in this story are people that I respect. I’m not mad at any of them.
I only suggest that we see something they don’t see. The questionable nature of measure of whiteness is in their cultural blind spot. If you’re not careful about your blind spots, you might cut someone off, or get in a wreck. Arrogant people deny that their blind spot exists. Those of us who are concerned with the safety and well being of everybody on the road acknowledge that we have blind spots. We trust people with different points of view to let us know if we are safe to maneuver. We learn to check in the mirror. We learn to look over our shoulders, to see our blind spots with our own eyes.
I woke up today before the birds started chirping, around 4am.
At about 8:30 a.m. I showed up at R’s apartment complex with a thermos full of coffee and a keto-friendly baon that I packed for him. Packing a someone snack for the road feels like the deepest core Filipino instinct. He put me to work vacuuming, and then when I was done he gifted me the vacuum cleaner, which he was going to throw away anyway. My own vacuum cleaner will move on to Goodwill.
We got the manager to inspect his empty apartment, which is now spotless, and after that he turned in his keys. We walked to his car, said goodbye, and he drove away, waving to me in the rear view mirror. I felt dumb about waving so I just put my hand in the air.
I didn’t feel particularly sad, that I could tell; but I started crying as I was walking through his complex to my car. I cried all the way to Washington Street, and then I cried past St. Francis of Assisi and all the way to Highway 111, and then I finally stopped and exhaled at about Fred Waring. I don’t think I ever cried about another dude before; the last time I cried at all was in 2007 when my sister dropped me off at the airport when I was leaving for China.
Anyway, it feels silly now, all the crying. R is a very close and sincere friend; we supported each other a lot through these last few months of transition. The word I give him is “reassuring.” He’s a good man, I wish him well in the Society of Jesus. It pains me that we didn’t take a picture.
I made it back to my apartment and I sat with a neighbor for a while, and overshared. Now I’m back in my cool apartment, with zero desire to eat, read, or watch TV. I have a massage appointment in an hour and maybe afterward I’ll see a movie.
No plans for tomorrow, Sunday. Monday I’ll report for jury duty.
Ten years ago, I wrote this post: The Blow Off…
Recently I’ve been through a festival of flaking, and it wasn’t the apologetic, unavoidable, understandable kind. It was the blow-off kind of flaking, the unapologetic, inconsiderate kind, the kind of flaking that ruined all my plans and left me home alone, with nothing to do except think about how mad I was. It was the kind of flaking that, when compounded, ends friendships. In the end we managed to get past it, but I feel like we wrecked the paint job scraping the median.
What happened was that China, the nation, mandated that everybody work on Saturday and Sunday, in order to have a longer block of days off for Dragon Boat Festival. They had done something similar for Spring Festival earlier that year, and I remember being livid for having to go in to work on that Sunday.
So for that Dragon Boat Festival Sunday, I was prepared to work and just grind it out, because I needed to save my personal days for when I left the company. But when my number-one amigo J told me the itinerary for that Sunday, I immediately emailed that I was going to take a personal day. In the morning, there was going to be a swanky brunch for S, who had just earned her PhD. Later, there would be a walking tour of the historic Jewish quarter of Shanghai, organized by my brilliant friend M. Later, I had plans to meet my new friend for dim sum, and then after that I think the plan was to just hang out with J, our last night to hang out. He was leaving China for good later that week. We also agreed that I’d take him to the airport to see him off later that week, which meant a lot to me. So I requested two personal days; one for Dragon Boat Sunday, and one for airport day.
It turns out that J was a no show for the brunch, the walking tour, and the dim sum. People looked to me, to ask what was going on, and I just apologized on his behalf and forced a smile. I was embarrassed, and I wished people would stop asking me. I wished J would at least answer my texts, if not theirs.
After all the events were over, I went home instead of going out with the others. I was too annoyed to go out, and I didn’t want to go out annoyed. So I sat in my apartment annoyed instead, and then went to bed.
The next morning at work, J finally texted me. He said he had drunk too much the night before, woke up at 3pm and then didn’t feel like going out, so he stayed home for a few hours and then later went on a date. He said he was “keeping it real,” and I think he was annoyed that I was so disappointed.
I thought to myself, oh I have very seriously misjudged our friendship. Or maybe it somehow ended without me knowing. Either way, it’s over. I deserve better than that.
I answered his texts, saying, “Look, I just need my backpack back, I left it in your apartment and my camera is in it. I still want to see you off at the airport on Friday, but if you don’t want me there, just tell me now; I should not waste both my personal days if you’re not into it…”
Seconds after I sent that text, the phone rang. I took the call on the stairs of the rooftop patio. It was J, apologizing, saying that he had forgotten that Sunday was a work day, that I had had to take a personal day. It wasn’t a very compelling reason to blow me off, so even though he was apologetic, I stuck to the only thing I really needed from the situation; I wanted my camera back.
J offered to meet me for dinner sometime that week and I said, “Look, I just want my camera back.” He told me to name a night and we’d go out for dinner; I said, “Fine, Tuesday night.” He responded that he had a date Tuesday night. I asked about other nights and he actually had dates every night that week. I told him, “Look, I don’t need dinner, I just want my camera back.”
There was a pause and he said, “I will cancel my date for Tuesday night.”
I took a breath. I realized our friendship actually was important to him; important enough to cancel a date with his lady friend.
Of course it is preposterous. I signed and said, “no, I’m not going to ask you to cancel a date.” But I did see that he was serious, and I give him credit for offering.
“Lunch,” he said, “I’ll meet you for lunch… today.” I think it was already 11:00 in the morning; he would really have have to hustle to meet me for lunch. While I was thinking about it, he reminded me, “Look, you want your camera back.” Son of a bitch!
I met him at a dim sum place. He handed me my backpack, and I checked inside and saw my camera. Mission accomplished.
I don’t remember what we chatted about, but it was pleasant, like nothing had happened, like I hadn’t just got horribly blown off 48 hours earlier. It felt like we was boyz again. My notions about the end of our friendship were fading fast.
So at a lull in our pleasant conversation, I told him, “J, you know I didn’t really want to come today.”
He said, “I know, mate.”
“I don’t allow people to treat me like that… I just needed my camera back…”
He interrupted. “I’m really sorry, mate.” I could tell he meant it.
So that’s it. I am a sucker for sincere apologies. If someone apologizes to me sincerely, I actually feel embarrassed that I got mad. It takes very little to make me feel whole again, and suddenly it’s behind me.
I guess I’m taken aback by sincere apologies, I did not grow up with them. My Filipino parents, aunts and uncles, and older generations, would not apologize to save their own lives. They are so proud, that they would cut their own livers out of their abdomens before taking responsibility for the impact of their words and actions. Filipino American kids of my generation are not equipped to negotiate after a sincere apology. We have known all our lives that we would die mad.
So now I know that I will tolerate horrible, friendship-ending level offenses, and just move on, if there is a sincere apology in it for me. I admit, I’m kind of a sucker.
Anyway, on June 5, 2009, J and I got in a cab for Pudong airport. It’s an hour cab ride, I think we were probably late, and there was a pit stop. There were no grand final monologues, just regular amigo chatter. We got his bags checked in and we walked to security.
At the entrance to the security, J turned to me and warned me about my sunglasses, hooked onto the button of my shirt, and then hugged me, crushing my sunglasses. I think my words were, “oh, there’s hugs?”
My parting words were, “hey, thanks for everything…” and he replied, “No; thank you!” And then we said bye and he disappeared into security.
That was the last time I saw him, ten years ago last Wednesday.
The only person I ever told this story to was Aussie K. J was a mutual friend, and I had accepted his apology, so I didn’t feel like it was something I should blab about.
At the end of the story, K asked me, “Why was it so important to you to see him off at the airport?”
“I wanted to say goodbye properly,” I said, and then I thought for a moment and realized the real answer. “I see my friends off, because when it’s my time to go, I want someone to see me off, too.”
K nodded in a thoughtful Australian acknowledgement, and asked, “Who’s seeing you off when you leave on the 29th?”
I said, “Yah, well… nobody. It’s a Monday so everybody will be working…”
She interrupted, “I’ll see you off.”
A few weeks later, K and I got in a cab to Pudong airport. We were not late, and there was not a pit stop. I was so grateful that she saw me off, it really meant a lot to me.
And that’s why I offer to help people move. Or at least offer to help.
I know that soon, I’ll have to move. And when I do move, I hope someone will help me.
Monday. Morning workout: a lot of deadlifts. I spent the day in my classroom grading papers. In the evening I had a massage.
Tuesday. I went into the office early, put my gradebook to bed, and then boxed up my personal belongings to move out of my classroom. I went home for lunch and a nap, and afterward, went back onto to move my boxes out. R texted that he would help the next day, but I rounded up some help (ES) and just backed my Prius up to my classroom door and loaded the few boxes into the car. R gets credit for having offered to help, but in the end I got it done without him.
When I got home, I found that my copy of Amber Scorah’s Leaving the Witness; Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life had arrived. Amber is a dear friend for over a decade, and I’m so proud of her for telling this story. I will have my thoughts and reflections on the book in a later post. For now, it seems like Amber is on a media blitz promoting the book, with interviews on NPR, CBC, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, etc. In addition, she published another opinion piece in the New York Times, and the NYT Book Review is coming out on Sunday. She also mentioned something about People Magazine… her publicist has really made things happen.
I read the book from cover to cover. I started around 5pm, and finished it before midnight. I only took two breaks; one to make fried rice for dinner, and the other because R wanted to meet me for frozen yogurt.
Wednesday. I felt too sore to go to the morning workout, so I skipped it (big mistake, I’m more sore today). I met R and went to help him move his bed, which he gifted to a coworker. We delivered it, and the three of us had lunch at El Mirasol, which was better than I remembered it. I went home afterward, tidied my kitchen while watching Tidying Up with Mari Kondo. For dinner I drove to La Quinta to meet R and L&ES for dinner at the Grill on Main. There was some sorbet later, and a quiet drink.
Thursday. I skipped the workout again today, because I was too excited for Amigo Day Encore. I picked up R and we googled for a beach that didn’t have a lot of traffic. We ended up in Oceanside. We went to the farmer’s market, walked the fishing pier, and napped on the beach (it was cloudy) for a couple hours until it was time for lunch. We went to Maan’s Mediterranean Grill for lunch and then found a Yogurtland before going to Carlsbad beach for a couple of hours. After that we drove back over he mountains, making a pitstop at Cahuilla Casino. While in the casino, the power blinked off and all the casino machines rebooted, which means we didn’t play any slots, just continued back to the desert. We stopped and took a couple of pictures at the vista point, noticing a fire near my house.
I dropped off R at his place and then came back to my own; watched some more episodes of KonMari and ate spaghetti.
Tomorrow: who knows. Maybe I’ll write about Amber’s book. In the evening there might be frozen yogurt. Early Saturday morning, R will bring back the air mattress I loaned him, and he drives away for good.
There are a lot of special events happening and I haven’t been quick enough to blog them.
Friday was the last final. I wasn’t a 監考人 exam proctor, so I worked in my classroom with my colleagues all morning. After that was over, I went to lunch with R at El Rodeo, which is my favorite Mexican restaurant in the desert by far. We got a table on the sidewalk and ordered an appetizer AND entrees. Then we went to get frozen yogurt, and then to a local bar for a quiet drink and the desert version of the GFS. B was pumped when I texted him that we were carrying on the tradition. Next year Blanchet and Prep end on the same day, so maybe we’ll be able to carry on the tradition in Seattle.
After that, R had a thing, so I went and saw Rocketman by myself. I identify a lot with Elton John even though I am obviously not an excessively decadent rock star. “When are you going to hug me?” is a good freaking question. Finally, we all need a friend like Bernie Taupin.
On Saturday morning I went to IW coffee for breakfast and then Ernest Coffee to grade final exams. I was planning on a lazy day of lazy grading but then R showed up and told me to join him and A to see Booksmart. My first instinct was to stick with the lazy grading/lazy day plan, but I realized that if I turned on the turbo jets, I could have it all; I could grade the stack of papers AND go to a raunchy teen coming of age buddy movie with two good friends.
So I sat there and graded like the fate of humanity was at stake. It was mentally exhausting but R was there sitting on my right, and I felt like lazy grading/lazy day would be some depressing garbage. I finished grading the compositions with just enough time to choke down a beyond burger and join them at the movie theater. Actually I got there first.
When I put the clip on my stack of grading, I turned and looked R in the eye; he took out his ear bud; and I told him deadass, “I am going to need you to sit next to me every time I grade papers for the rest of my career.” He agreed, of course, which was the right thing to say.
We went and saw the movie, it was funny and as raunchy as I thought it would be. Funny. Of course R clutched his pearls afterwards but I think he does that for effect. Also I don’t think he researches movies as much as I do.
After that I got a 45 minute foot massage and then putzed around and went to sleep.
Sunday morning I met R for mass at St. Francis; it was the Feast of the Ascension; a nice model for a joy-filled goodbye. We went to breakfast at Shields Date Garden Café, which was a much nicer experience than I might have thought. You know, there are a few nice places in this valley, under the right circumstances: when the weather is not too hot, when there’s not a lot of pressure at work, when you have money in the bank, and when you can spend time with people you enjoy.
Our breakfasts at the café got us free admission to the garden walk, which depicts the life of Christ in sculpture. We walked through the tour backwards, starting at the Ascension and backwards through Christ’s life until the Nativity. At the beginning we were pretty focused on the cheesy “Precious Moments” aspect of the presentation, but by the end it was such a nice day that it didn’t really matter, to me at least.
I went home after that to get ready for the big despedida. My banana lumpia turned out to be a disaster this time, they didn’t brown before the bananas exploded. The result was that I served less than brown lumpia. They were gross.
As I was rolling them, I watched Always Be My Maybe, a predictable romcom that was a love letter to the Bay Area, complete with nerd rap. It was a nice thing to watch while rolling lumpia.
I wonder if my white friends understand that my experience of Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles is like that movie: mostly brown people. White folks are people I meet at work mostly. For my white coworkers, I think the opposite is true; their lives are mostly white, and they meet brown people at work. Anyway, just an observation; I do cherish the white friends who have become part of my life.
I showed up to the despedida with two boxes of soap and body butter to give away, and a bowl of bad lumpia. I was a half hour late and the first one there. We passed around 10-day old baby Camila, and passed around my phone to take pictures. We sang along to Whitney Houston songs on YouTube; I doled out soap and body butter. We ate snacks and drank dranks. There were some tearful goodbyes.