Take a mental snapshot of your friends. What do you see? Do you see a colorful bouquet or a more monotone arrangement with shades of similar?
A stranger recently approached me in a restaurant. “I’m sorry, but there aren’t many of ‘us’ … do you live nearby?” My friends looked up slightly offended and very confused. I smirked, laughed in response and carried on a friendly conversation with the woman. It’s not the first time this has happened to me.
I translated to my friends. “Us” means Asians. And when one Asian spots one of “us” in one of the only Asian restaurants in a homogeneous town, you may have the makings of a new bestie.
In the ‘Hood
My neighborhood is 89% White and 3.3% Asian. Spotting another Asian is like birding. The ones with the bright colored feathers and unusual markings stand out the most. I grew up in a ‘hood similar to this one on the left coast. I’m used to living among a rather homogeneous population, so sometimes I don’t realize how different my racial appearance may stand out from the crowd or how intrigued I am to spot another Asian until one appears.
When my daughter was just an infant, I routinely walked her around the block at the same time the school bus drop off occurred. I immediately noticed a slight meticulous Asian woman with long dark hair waiting for her children. Her adorable hapas emerged with brownish hair and round eyes. I stalked her for the next few days. I would slowly push the stroller across the street and inconspicuously examine her behind my oversized shades. I don’t know if I felt competitive or curious but I was compelled to “friend” her.
After several days of coincidentally showing up at the same corner around 3p, my stalking worked. We locked in eye contact and she even cracked a smile. I took this as a sign to engage. I introduced myself on day 5. But in my overbearing fashion it wasn’t a mere “you had me at hello.” It was hello + 21 questions. Where do you come from? How long have you lived here? Do you like it? How did you meet your husband? Do you have a bestie? She was polite enough to answer and tolerate my inquisition.
I didn’t share my visions of us drinking matcha together, swapping rice cooker reviews and talking about the challenges of raising hapa kids in a white ‘hood. I later realized my “American” over-sharing may have been overwhelming for a 1st generation immigrant. Alas, the friendship never took off. I still run into her on occasion, but we kindly smile, wave and go along our separate ways. Even sharing the same race as someone cannot force a friendship.
Why Can’t We All Get Along?
What is it about the desire or longing to connect like with like? I spent so much of my youth wishing to be white like most of my peers that as an adult I long to make up for all the lost Asian connections I never had. However, life doesn’t always set you on the path you envision for yourself and you make the best of where you end up in your own skin. Today, I find friendship in people with an array of interests, other moms who just get it, colleagues who can talk shop, travelers who share passions and foodies who don’t bat an eye when you spend half your time Instagramming every single course of the tasting menu.
Yet there’s value in what’s not familiar too, and sometimes opening yourself up to someone new or different or even introducing others to your own culture is just as meaningful if not more powerful.
Everybody wants friends. And while I don’t choose friends by race quota, I would wish for more Asian friends or other colorful friends for that matter. I still think about the lady I met in the restaurant. We didn’t exchange contact information but I hope I run into her again. If even to wave, smile and let her know there’s another one of ‘us’ still around.
Do you think about making new friends? Are most of your friends the same? Are there striking differences between your friends? Do tell.