Are you Japanese?

“Giapponese?” everyone asks when they see me.

I smile and shake my head. “Americana,” I say. “Parlo inglese.”

American. I speak English.

Everyone was surprised.

Initially, it bothered me. That strange idea that I was not born in an Asian country and spoke English fluently. But after awhile, I understood. I have met someone of Japanese descent who was born in Mexico. Then a friend who is of Chinese descent, born in France with a very French name. It’s surprising to me too.

Yet, it makes me appreciate the challenges that immigrants faced when they enter an unknown country. They came not knowing the langage and took a chance with the offerings of the country.

But there’s always this awkward moment as I walk down the streets in Sicily. I am not sure if I became hyper-conscious. But in the last four days, I am the only minority I spotted among the Italians. I see blondes and brunettes. I did spot one person, perhaps ethnically Indian or Middle Eastern. Then one small girl descending from Africa being led by hand through a small seaside village.

If I was younger. Perhaps in my early twenties, my sensitivity wouldn’t be that high. I was oblivious to racism back then, barely hearing any remarks. And then, I was only a few years moving out of my hometown where everyone else was blonde and blue-eyed. Now, older, having lived and befriended…so many Asian Americans, I cannot fanthom living in a place where my ethnicity is a minority…and the idea of my immigration is even…stranger still.

I can only live in an area where diversity is not only accepted, but expected.

I have always wondered this though: if an Asian American traveled to a country with uneasy American ties, would it be easier for her as a non-stereotypical American?

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