Can I Get a Venti Cup of Ignorance, Flavored with Assumption, Please?

An encounter at Starbucks inspires a Holt adoptee to discuss the assumptions strangers sometimes make about race. This story originally appeared on the mother-daughter adoption blog “Don’t We Look Alike?”

by Marisha Castle

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I had recently embarked on this new journey to “The City of Angels” and was excited and hopeful.  I had a plan of stepping stones with which to approach the city and make a name for myself.

I was on my way to meet one of my best friends at the Grove in Hollywood. It is a famous landmark, filled with shops, restaurants, and the Farmer’s Market. They have a Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble there, so to kill time, I went to get a coffee until my friend arrived.

(To preface, the tsunami had just struck Japan, so you can see where this story is going).

The line was long, and when it was my turn, I ordered my coffee and waited for the barista to ring me up and ask for my card. There was an awkward silence.

Out of nowhere she said, “Hey, are you okay?”

I smiled. “Yeah, of course. How are you doing?”

She acted hesitant. “Fine. I just … am so sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry for what?”

“For your people. The disaster … it’s just awful. I’m glad you are okay and I hope your family is safe as well.”

“I’m sorry, are you talking about the tsunami?”  I couldn’t believe I was hearing this.  “That is so nice, but I’m not from Japan. I’m not even Japanese. Haha. I’m American.”

“Oh. I just assumed that you were involved.”

Bless her heart. “No, I wasn’t. My family lives in America and we are quite safe. But thank you for your concern.”

“No problem. Sorry. I don’t mean to sound racist.”

“You’re good, girl. Have a great day!”

I could’ve taken offense to what she said. Maybe I should have. But I only felt that word “ignorance” again and just let it roll off. She obviously meant well, and I’m sure she felt stupid by “assuming.”

In a coincidence, the same thing happened to me in New York City when I was visiting a couple weeks later.  A man on the street bowed at me with his palms together and sent his condolences for the tragedy.

People are so funny. But when will racial assumptions be erased from American society? I don’t have an accent. I don’t dress out of the ordinary. To me, I am just like them. American.

My guess is that it will never be that easy. I wish her the best, though, and the best for the tsunami victims. But for me, I am Korean-American adopted, and I am proud to be an American citizen.

Marisha Castle, an adoptee born in Korea, is an actor, singer/songwriter, dancer, choreographer, and writer. Contact her at marishaandluanne@gmail.com.

8 Replies to “Can I Get a Venti Cup of Ignorance, Flavored with Assumption, Please?”

  1. Bless your heart Marisha for being so understanding. I can honestly say I am not always as kind. I just turned 50 and I have received many stares, comments and remarks in my lifetime. One of many that happens to stick in my mind, my husband and I went to Vegas one year, and since I always make all the reservations and generally everything is always in my name, I was in line to check in. There was a gentleman in front of me and he was just getting ready to step up to the counter and the gentleman said “oh sorry I need to close my window… please move to the right for someone to assist you”. The gentleman turned to me and looked at me straight in the eye and said, “Did you understand what he just told us”. In my shock I responded ” oh yes I did understand him, did you”? I have had so many remarks in my lifetime that sometimes you just have to laugh and other times I just feel darn right naughty… Looking at some of these people, I just want to say, I have been a US citizen way before you were even born, but again they wouldn’t get it, just shows you how ignorant they are…. I also have had a 15 year old kid in the grocery store ask me if I spoke Mandarin,,,, my first thought was I am not an orange!!! I laugh now and he was embarrassed in asking me after he saw the shock on my face….

  2. Don’t think this is a really big deal, or really even worth mentioning. These people obviously were very sympathetic to what happened in Japan, and were just trying to share it with someone who they thought might be there. Maybe because you are adopted you don’t really have any feelings of a cultural tie to Asia. You don’t have to be born in the country, or grow up there, to feel affinity for it. And to simply label yourself “American” is also in a way demeaning. I don’t know how you could ever ask for “racial assumptions be erased from American society”. Most people I know are proud of their heritage from wherever they come from. America is country that was developed and grew from immigrants.

  3. It appears you may have been offended by the strangers comments. Recognizing you are of Asian decent was cause for the strangers to inquire of your well being. I have two adult daughters of Korean birth, and I celebrate their individuality. We are all Americans but it is also nice to embrace your differences.

  4. Marisha, thanks for having an understanding attitude with people. Yes, the comments may be ignorant but at least they arose from a place of compassion. I am a 53 year old white man who is the father of an adopted Chinese daughter. To us, her ethnicity is just a fact, like my blue eyes. We have such a hodge-podge of friends, some adopted, some bio-kids, White, Chinese, Mexican, Phillipina, Ethiopian, Haitian, and Indian. I teach Karate at a school with a lot of kids. When I see a face, I see a person first and later I might see an ethnicity. I am very grateful my daughter, like you, is being raised in a post-racial world. The world I was raised in was not so enlightened. I have worked with WWII vets who, even years after the end of that horrible war, saw the Japanese as something other than fully human. It is so nice that someone’s first impulse was to try to connect to you from a place of compassion, even if she risked offending you. I personally believe that people of the Earth are more connected than we realize. Growing up, I never believed I’d ever travel very far. But I have lived in Europe and Africa and actually traveled to China several times, the last time to bring home my beautiful daughter. Along the way I have met mostly kind and generous people. Thanks for sharing your authentic insights!

  5. I don’t think at all that their comments can be considered ‘racist’ or even ignorant. First of all, many people can’t distinguish Asians; [call it the “ugly American syndrome] true its annoying but instead what I am taking away from this is a genuine caring and conern by individuals that because of the world watching this enormous disaster are making an ‘link’ to her when they see her. No one looks at a person of any race and can automatically tell whether they are from U.S. or not. And if her heritage is in fact, Japanese — be proud of that. And humbly and respectfully comment to others a “THANK YOU for your concern.” To be insulted is far fetched and a waste of emotions. We are connected to each other around the world and when there is a natural disaster, particularly, people respond. Nothing more. Reading racism into this is a stretch! Perhaps its insulting because the individual does not want to be associated with ‘heritage.’

  6. Wow, I guess I’m ignorant also because I thought the remark was coming from a place of compassion. There is such a thing as reverse racism.
    I only know that when I’m with my wonderful Chinese granddaughter and someone assumes we are not together, I’m so very, very proud to let them know that l’m with her. There’s absolutely no reason to feel insulted by stares and questions. She rather enjoys them and encourages dialogue regarding tolerance, acceptance, and adoption. She is not a race, not an ethnicity. She’s the perfect role model for love, acceptance, and individuality.

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