Malaysia is a simmering cultural stew. Just as rasam, dosha, and idli are inexorably linked to childhood memories - the clattering of aluminum dishes and endless tumblers of squash, so are bao, congee, the staccato of chopsticks and the watermelon flavor of soybean milk.
Dim sum is comfort food. The gathering of family around a giant table with an impressive lazy susan, each uncle making sure to order his favorites. For me, it's the original tapas - trying a little taste of something you're not too sure about, sampling all kinds of flavors and textures. Now, eating dim sum with those who are relatively new to it is an opportunity to teach: sesame balls, dumplings with chives, shrimp noodle, etc.
I was thrilled to get invited to the Hong Kong Flower Lounge for a dim sum birthday party. Scanning the eVite, I saw that I would be one of the few non 'Asian Asian' people attending. No biggie, I know my way around dim sum. I arrived and I asked for the birthday party. When that drew blank looks, I asked for the Shen party. The hostess started to lead me .... away from the main hall, upstairs and into a party room.
The room held about 5 large tables, perfectly set, including gift bags (in fuschia and aqua.) We're not in a dim sum restaurant anymore, thought I. Surveying the room, I found five women gathered at the far end finishing up the party favors. Oh, I'm definitely not in the right place. At this point, they had spotted me, so I had to say "Ha! Looks like I'm not at the right party!" One women asked, "Are you a Zeta??" Uh, no. And if I were, wouldn't I look less confused/bemused? That explained it, though: the perfect place settings, the elegantly flipped hair, twin sets, and pearl earrings. I wished them well, and then beat a hasty retreat.
As IF! Just because I'm not of the Chinese persuasion, I was lumped in with the OTHER non-Chinese people at the restaurant. Even after asking for a distinctly 'Asian Asian' name, I was still categorized that way.
I wasn't offended, I was amused. With a little more time, it's made me think. A friend and I had a "discussion" about race. His take on it was that race is such a small part of my experience - to which I responded that anything is small, depending on how you dice the pieces. Race, or how you are identified is more than your perception of yourself, it's also in the way that society perceives you. I could wake up tomorrow and decide that I'm absolutely 110% male, but that would not change how others interact with me (at least not without some very concerted effort, and even then, somewhat doubtful.)
I remember shopping in Madras with my mother when I was maybe 10, and hearing a child about my age remark (in Tamil) about the 'American' and knowing that he meant me. At the time, I thought of my elementary school classmates, one of whom regaled me by whooping and doing a war dance around me. I was too stunned by the ignorance to even try and explain the "dot not feathers" distinction. While to many (most?) Americans, I'll never quite be thought of as an American, I'm in no way considered Indian by Indians either. Where does that leave me?