It happened again. That funny question that irks and tweaks the underbelly of self-identity. “What are you?”
The snark rises and I stutter, “Ahh…huu..man?”
The smirk flashes annoyance, “No I mean like where are you from?”
“Oh I am Canadian – born in Ontario. Not far from here…”
Interruption arises, eyebrows raised, “No I mean your people where are they from?”
“My parents were refugees, fleeing tyranny. And…”
A spark dawns and interjects before I can finish, “Oh you are Middle-eastern. Turkish?”
Now I am annoyed, and I can feel the emotions brush across my face and furrow my brow.
“How about I finish. They came from Europe. 1956. The failed Hungarian Revolution made my father realize he couldn’t stay because he would be arrested and tortured again. And my mother had just had a baby. So when the river froze in December of 1956 they walked across the ice to what is now Croatia.”
A nod. I see they are listening.
“My mother’s brother was in Toronto, so he sponsored them to come to Canada. And in July of 1957 they arrived in Quebec on a refugee ship. And…”
I can see the question coming before it becomes sound, “So you are European – cause you don’t really look white. Kinda Asian actually. Your almost black hair, and skin with a hint of colour and your eyes are almond which is why I said Turkish…”
My turn to speak up and over, “Yeah. Hungarian-Croatian. Well actually Croatian-Hungarian is more accurate. The village was mostly Croatian, but in the Hungarian side of the border. That part of Europe is a mix of people spilling between tribes and blending. I hear there is some Gypsy – Roma – ancestry in my genetic makeup. And some of the tribes that settled in the area had Asian and Middle-eastern origins.”
The other listens, and nods. And summarized my label, “So you are white then..huh. So hard to tell.”
I sigh, and reply, “Nope I am not white, but I’ve been mistaken for one before. I am human. And while my skin has a lighter-tone, my attitude is universal. The place of my birth, and the colour of my skin has nothing to do with how I have experienced the world, or how I think. My advice to you is top labelling people based on outward appearances. You cannot judge a book by its cover; Nor can you see the human inside the body if all you see are the shape and colour that they wear. Yes indeed we are each unique individuals; but close your eyes and open your ears! And you will be surprised to learn that we are all more alike, than we are different.”
I can see my words have offended, as they turn and move away. Truly they meant no harm in asking such an innocent question. Yet it wasn’t innocent at all, merely unthinking and presumptive. As I watch them leave, I can hear my mother’s voice in my head, “This is why you can’t have nice things – you always break them.”
Yes Mom, I do break them. Because I expect them to be better than that to begin with…
cold pond crystal clear
cracks sharp beneath these skate blades
nothing will stop me
It is strange how we create a routine out of the obligations of life. A pattern is shaped from necessity and reluctantly overlaid. Eight years ago my father died, and my mom asked me to come see her more often. At first it was every other week. Somewhere in there it became a weekly visit. Usually on a Saturday, I’d be up by 6am and on my way. The 2-hour drive a quiet pleasant meditation through lovely Ontario country-side. A stop for a coffee. Sometimes a pause for walk on a trail.
rush right past
babbling burst of sound
what was that?
hard ground beneath me
lends balance to my standing;
it hurts to fall down.