Thursday, March 3, 2011

Burntcore Week 41: Welcome to America


Picture 1

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Burntcore's Choice: Picture 1

Welcome to America

I hated working here. This hotel was full of self-important businesspeople and ignorant tourists. If it wasn’t for the college credit I got towards my food sciences degree, I would have quit in a heartbeat. So I put up with people who only saw the superficial and were too busy to see outside of their own little microcosm.

The problem?

They assumed that I didn’t understand English, when I understood and spoke probably it better than they did.

Why did they make this assumption?

Because everyone that worked at the hotel café, including myself, were of Japanese descent.

I was a first generation American. My parents came over from Okinawa when they were teens and just happened to grow up in the same neighborhood. They were homesick for Japan and their old friends when they met. They stuck like glue and were inseparable. Eventually they got used to living in the United States and actually had fun showing the other kids their culture and food. By the time my parents graduated high school, there was a whole school full of kids who loved sushi. The girls especially loved the kimonos and would gush over how beautiful the hand-woven and hand-painted garments were.

Needless to say, my parents instilled in me a great respect for Japanese culture. While English was still the first language I was officially taught, I had also learned Japanese from an early age. On any given day in my household, you could hear Japanese and English being spoken, sometimes during the same conversation. My parents tried to speak English as much as they could, but some things didn’t always translate well, especially when they were upset.

Which was how I found myself here at this café with people talking to me like I was a migrant worker who couldn’t speak English.

It was funny actually. People would talk about me right in front of my face, or talk about personal things that I really had no desire to know, assuming that I didn’t understand. These were usually the same people that spoke very slowly to me or just pointed to pictures of what they wanted.

Apparently no one ever told them about assumptions.

The worst was when this real uppity woman in a Chanel suit from last season came waltzing up to my counter. If her nose was any higher, she’d drown when it rained. She took one look at me and commented to her friend about lousy foreigners taking all the jobs from poor Americans. I gritted my teeth and decided to mess with her a little. Her friend had the grace to look embarrassed.

I put on the most hock-eyed, fake Japanese accent I could and asked for her order.

“Oh res, ma’am, what rou like?”

If my mother ever saw me talk this way to anyone, she would’ve boxed my ears and started yelling in Japanese at me. I cringed inwardly and tried to focus on my acting.

The pretentious woman sighed and muttered something about ‘the help’ not being able to speak English.

“I want a large café mocha,” the woman said loudly and slowly.

I nodded my head stupidly and said “Rou want large crafe mochra? Hai?”

“Yes, you simpleton. I want a large café mocha,” she snapped.

I nodded and smiled at her while she continued to complain about my inability to speak proper English. After making her drink, I decided that I had played the game long enough.

I held her cup out to her, plastered the most fake smile I could, and looked her right in the eye.

“Here is your café mocha, ma’am. Thank you for visiting the Metro Café. I hope you enjoy your stay here in San Francisco.”

Her jaw hit the floor and her cheeks filled with color. “You speak English,” she whispered as she took her drink. The woman’s friend looked back and forth between the two of us looking decidedly uncomfortable.

“I would hope so. I was born here in California after all.”

Her eyes narrowed as she recalled my put-on accent. “Then what was with the fake Japanese accent?”

I cocked my head at her before responding, letting her really think about that before I answered. “You don’t think I didn’t hear your little comment about people like me taking jobs from Americans? You assumed based on how I looked that I wasn’t an American and couldn’t speak English. Shame on you.”

The woman’s face paled as she stumbled away, momentarily humiliated from her bigotry.

Maybe this job wasn’t so bad after all.