“… and maybe it’s their culture … but they are here now … don’t they … these foreigners … oh. uh … no offense. you know. and …”
I was less than 7 feet away from him in his less than 500 square feet studio apartment. It was midnight. He slowly paced back and forth in front of me, justifying why he asked his neighbor to refrain from talking loudly. I agreed. It was disrespectful of his neighbor. A nightly event, his neighbor was outside talking on the telephone. I was inside sitting on one of three chairs — four chairs, if I counted the ottoman. He stood between his doorway and me. This would be the first and last time I visited his apartment.
I was certain I heard him say
“… oh. uh … no offense. …”
Who might he have offended? His door was closed. His neighbor did not hear him.
“… oh. uh … no offense. …”
He waved with what I later understood to be a preemptive, pacifying, left hand gesture toward me, while he paced back and forth and continued to talk. When he exclaimed about the need for foreigners to adapt and assimilate to the American culture, on occasion, he looked over his shoulder at me.
He really did say
“… oh. uh … no offense. you know. and …”
Was I not to take offense? And his hand gesture? I knew I was American — Filipino-American. He knew I was born in Florida. Certainly there was no reason for me to take offense. I knew I was not a foreigner. Would a foreigner, however he defined one, be offended by his statements? It’s simply bad manners to be disruptive at midnight.
He qualified his statements about adapting and assimilating. His context seemed credible, to explain the reasons behind his statements, to assure some rational thought. He was clear and specific. In fact, I believed he had valid perspectives. At least, for several minutes, he sounded educated and informed.
“Uh, wait. What the hell? Do you think I’m a foreigner? You know, don’t you, that I’m not a foreigner? Right? I’m not a foreigner.”
Born in the United States with a father who always extolled the virtues and opportunities of being an American citizen — I voted. My parents raised their family as bi-cultural, with the American slant more prominent. He? He was a European mix. He was American. He, too, was not a foreigner.
“oh? right. uhm…”
With an awkward silence, his pacing stopped. Then he faced me, shoulders squared-off, about 5 feet away from me. “well …” I interrupted him,
“You understand that I’m not a foreigner. Right?”
More awkward silence as he stood still.
“well, you know what i mean? …”
He stepped back a few feet — resuming his pacing, rationalizing, and explaining. And that was when I realized I knew what ignorant meant.
I interrupted his explanations, for the last time.
“I hear what you think you mean. I hear. I understand. …”
I began to explain what I understood. I believed I would convince him of what he did not understand. Then with my voice trailing off, suddenly, I realized my disappointment. I knew I was not a foreigner. He did not. I no longer commented. He had his stage. It was his home. This was his soliloquy. I was his audience, very eager to leave his chair for the first and last time.
While he spoke again, I began to realize that I was someone else in his eyes, in his mind, and perhaps in his heart. My “looking different” and “being different” from him, which he often expressed as part of his strong attraction to me, afforded something else.
Often he would say,
“Your eyes are different. You’re cute. Your skin is different. You have a different look than me, which I find sensual. You grew up differently. Look how small you are. I know you are more than Asian. I like that your dad raised you American.”
What I had understood to be observations and compliments began to have different meanings.
I might simply be that someone to adapt and assimilate to standards he held, and until then, he might consider my actions, my convictions, my values, and my beliefs as foreign to him — not to be shared with him. I was not someone to be understood by him, not someone of equal value to him. He was not someone who respected me, not the someone I believed I knew. That night, he became my foreigner.
Originally shared at http://shirlquips.blogspot.com/2007/05/my-foreigner.html on May 3, 2007. Recently included in my first Medium post -