Original entry on September 12, 2015
My mom and I are out buying items for the house. When we arrive to the cashier, the conversation gets interesting.
Cashier: I like what you’re wearing.
Me: Thank you!
Her: What do you call your outfit?
Me: Uh, nothing special. Just an outfit.
I’m wearing blue jeans, a colorful shirt, and a blue hijab. All bought in the U.S.
Her: Oh, so you don’t call it anything?
Me: Nope. Just an outfit.
Her: Oooh. Just outfit.
She opens her hands and moves them in the same way I would describe a rainbow.
Her: Well, it’s nice.
Me: Thank you! That’s kind of you.
As she’s bagging our items.
Her: So, are you Chaldean? Where are you from?
My mom laughed. We get this question in San Diego all the time, which is always odd because Chaldeans are Christian. Not Muslim.
Mom: We’re Palestinian.
She says it slowly, not in an offensive way, but as if she’s trying the name out for the first time. She shakes her head, acknowledging the name.
Mom: From Jerusalem.
Her: Oh, well. Welcome!
She opens her hands as if she’s welcoming us to the country for the first time. Both my mom and I laugh.
Mom: We’re from here.
Me: Actually, I was even born and raised here. I’m American. We both are.
Mom: I’ve been here for over 27 years. My family isn’t new here. I even studied here. Got a doctorate here too.
My mom and I both smile.
Her: Oh! Your English is so good! You speak both languages?
She looks at me as she says this and then to my mom.
Mom: Yeah, we all speak English well.
Her: Did you teach her both at home?
Mom: Yes, same as all my children.
Her: You must have done a good job.
We thank her and say our goodbyes.
She seemed like a very sweet and nice old lady, so I knew I needed to hold back my sarcasm that was sitting at the tip of my tongue, when she complimented my apparently “exotic” looking outfit and accent-less English.
But, it’s still mind boggling that people assume there’s this one image of what an “American” looks like. With my SoCal tongue and western dress topped with a hijab, I’m as awesomely American, and specifically totally Southern Californian, as you can get. I do however enjoy when people do ask questions rather than hold on to their ignorance. That’s what I liked about this sweet lady. Because, I would rather do the same. We’re all ignorant in something or more and I believe educating oneself is the always the key.
I hope her weekend is as sweet as she was to my mother and I.