Being a refugee from a little known Southeastern country can be a curse rather than a blessing. For one, most people have a difficult time forming any sort of mental frame for the whereabouts of Laos. I have often been asked by many countless individuals who are truly curious about where I am from “originally”. When that question pops up I find myself mentally inhaling and exhaling before I say, “I’m from a small Southeastern country called Laos.” I let that information gradually sink in for a few seconds and eventually without fail, I notice the almost embarrassed puzzlement on their face. Even though some people do not come outright and ask, “Where the hell is that?” It is apparent that they are thinking it. To end the awkward pause in the conversation, I would instantaneous launch my brief Geography speech on the physical location of where Laos is. At the end of my lesson, some of them would say “OH!” which can mean two things (depending on how they say it): that they still don’t know where Laos is or they actually realize its location.
It is interesting to me that some people think we Asians look alike because as an Asian I can tell 9 out of 10 times if a person is Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Pilipino, Vietnamese etc. The way they walk, their skin color, the shape of their eyes, and manners is a dead give away to me. Interestingly, now as an adult, I do not get angry or too upset when people mistaken me for another race because I know people are not doing it on purpose. However, growing up was another matter. I remember some of my classmates in elementary and junior high would call me “chink” or “Jap” or “Gook” and that would incense me to no end because I knew they were being malicious and racist. When they would refer to me by those terms which were meant to be demeaning or derogatory, I would automatically tell them I’m not Chinese or Japanese, but I am Laotian and Vietnamese. Of course if I had any hopes that my announcement would enlighten them and stop the racial slurs I was mistaken because throughout my formative years my siblings and I were victims of racial slurs made by ignorant people. Of course I have overcome those racially motivated comments because I have learned to forgive, but I have not forgotten the lesson learned from my experience which is to not tolerate racial injustice and slurs.
I am often mistaken for a philipina and I am not insulted because it is a genuine mistake and one not intended to cast a racial slur on me. My point is if you do not know or can not tell one Asian from another just ask us and we will tell you what we are.