not the nanny

I alway knew it would happen one day … being mistaken for the nanny.

To me, my boys look half-Asian, half-white. They’ve inherited my features, particularly, LittleR Dude. There should be no question that I played a big part in producing them just by looking at them. But, I also know that some people don’t see what I see. A few just can’t get beyond me being Filipina. And, let’s face it. I live in a neighbourhood/town where Filipina nannies abound.

So why did the moron who came to my door asking to speak to the “owner of the house” surprise me? It more than surprised me. I was livid. Even as I type this post, I can feel the loathing for that man rising up again.

People have come to the door before. I saw how their eyes travelled past me, searching for clues, their minds churning, wondering if I was the hired-help and trying to find the right words to begin the conversation. But most recover from their initial hesitation, especially after hearing me speak. Most assume that I am the owner and begin their pitch as usual. At worst, I would get asked, “Are you the owner of the house?” … until the moron came to my door a few days ago.

The moron took a second to assess me and concluded (even as my two boys were yelling, “Mommy, mommy. Who’s that?”) that I was not the owner of my house. And his visit took me back to place I had not been in a very long time.

Later that night, I thought about my childhood and about immigrating to Canada at age 9 … and hearing the “Chinese-Japanese-Dirty knees” chant for the first time. I didn’t get it, at first. It didn’t register right away that the chant was directed at me. I wasn’t Chinese or Japanese. And, anyway, every other kid I knew had dirty knees from playing. What was the big deal?

When I finally clued in to the racist nature of the chant, it cut deep, though I didn’t let it show. I walked away and didn’t respond. I had been teased by my own siblings for looking more Chinese than Filipina. They, my brothers mostly, teased me about my eyes being slanted. I had been honed early on to take the teasing in stride.

The night the moron came to my door, I remembered how I was continually mocked by the only other Asian kid in my elementary class … Gillian Wong. I didn’t understand why she was so mean to me then. We should have been friends, bonded by the mere fact that we looked alike … that we looked different from the rest of the class.

Many years later, I realized that she must have seen me differently. I was the immigrant Asian … the one with “dirty knees” that the childhood rhyme was mocking. I represented the group of people that she had probably been battling to disassociate herself from. She did not see herself as being one of those people. Eventually, I learned to ignore her ridicule and steered clear from her and her elite group of white friends. I made my own friends.

In high school, my tongue became sharper. I remember walking home after school. There was a girl walking ahead of me. When I got closer, she stopped, turned around and asked if I had come to Canada “on a boat”. I don’t think she was trying to be funny or hurtful. It was a simple question to her. She just wanted to know. But that didn’t matter to me. I felt immediate hate for this girl. “You’re ignorant. We came by plane,” I barked back and even added, “We rode First Class!” (a lie) and kept on walking without waiting for a response.

These memories … my early experiences of intolerance and ignorance … are what the moron took me back to when he came to the door.

I like to think I’ve come a long way from the sorry-looking immigrant girl with black as black hair, scrapes on her knees and no-name, hand-me-down clothes. Most people would never guess that English wasn’t my first language, now.

When the moron who lives across the street came to my door asking to speak to the owner of the house not once but twice, I was enraged. It has been decades since high school. His ignorance shocked me. I wasn’t expecting it.

Lucky for us both, my old self-preservation strategies kicked in. I kept the conversation polite but brief. In all honesty, I think I remained calm mostly because my kids were also at the door. Who knows? We might have had a different conversation had I been alone. It was also way past the boys’ bath/bedtime and I felt a greater need to keep the conversation short than to provide neighbour-to-neighbour etiquette training to the crazy moron. But mostly, I think I just couldn’t be bothered.

I don’t think the moron really meant to insult me but his words … his ignorance … anger me still. He will never be welcomed in our home. But why?

I always knew that one day I would be mistaken for the nanny. He only proved that I was right.

1975 passport photo

  1. WOW. Powerful post. I think your question (WHY?) is the crux of the issue. Sometimes ignorance is worse than something blatantly racist, since it’s harder to know what to say.

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