I was standing in line at a store when a woman looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face. She broke into a smile and apologized for staring. “I just can’t figure out what you are!” she said brightly. I almost considered posting here with the all too common “What are you?”, with the countless number of times I’ve been asked that question. This exchange, however, included a little extra zest. I responded politely and explained that my family is from Brazil and that I have several ethnicities stirring the genetic pot. She furrowed her brows thoughtfully, nodding her head, muttering “Brazil, oh I see…Brazil…”. And then came the follow-up question that I’d never heard of before (or since, thankfully).
“So, is your family here legally?”
I honestly had no idea how to respond and she was promptly called up to the next cashier, so that’s where this dialogue ended. I do want to make something very clear though. This woman was ignorant, yes, undoubtedly. However, she was extremely pleasant and polite, showing genuine curiosity both verbally and with her body language. To her, asking me that question was perfectly normal. Obviously, I disagree and believe me, I could rant on here about the generalization of Latin Americans, assumptions of citizenship, and so on. But I wanted to point this conversation out because there was no ill intent or malice. She wasn’t trying to be insulting – though clearly, her words were.
Our perceptions are our realities and I just hope people like that woman do end up somehow achieving empathy as well as understanding.