I take the LSAT on Monday. I am having a difficult time studying, in this state of mind I decided to take a dinner break.
I ordered a great meal at one of my new favorite places in Little Gaza, off of Brookhurst in Anaheim. Its wonderful, not just the food, but the fact that at these places you get such a diverse group of people.
When you get all these groups in one place, the cultural characteristics start popping out in sharp contrast. I enjoy these sorts of social points, they firmly buttress my belief that all people can get along no matter how different we are. Also, that unlike the default tolerating others that Californians do on a regular basis, in these circumstances there are great potentials for cross cultural experiences and "fusion".
Well as you can tell I have had numerous experiences like these. My recent visit brought out a "what's up with that" moment I felt I had to share.
I was casually sitting at the restaurant doing some practice problems and through the door walked in a family. Father, Mother, two daughters, another person that seemed to be an Aunt maybe. Anyway, even before they entered the restaurant they stopped at the door. I was sitting near the door, clearly visible- wearing my favorite plaid pants, with a bright green shirt, long hair- no way you could miss me. I also happen to be clearly South Asian.
The parents stopped to measure me up. I think you can, if you are not South Asian, come up with seventy excuses as to why they did this- my "weird" attire, the bright green shirt, my long hair, I don't know could be a number of things for an outsider.
But I immediately knew what was up. It was the South Asian stare. Many a times I go places and found myself being stared at by fellow South Asian-ers. Cold, calculating, verifying stare. The type that you are trying to measure the person up, if you were Cyclopes from X-men, getting ready to fire his laser beam at the object of your gaze. Any moment you would think they would stop staring at you. But no. This stare continues. Other people would just look up, acknowledge and that would be the end of that.
However, with South Asians, the stare only becomes ever more present. Trying to rip you apart molecule by molecule. You know, if they stare at you long enough then you would just vanish. If it were the stare "Oh I might know this person", once acknowledged there would be a shaming smile and an immediate glancing in other directions. But no. They just keep staring.
At a convenient store, Disneyland, the Mosque, college admission days, grocery stores, gas stations, here at this restaurant; they stare and stare and stare. Its a bit overwhelming. Have they confirmed that I am South Asian too? Do they now know after staring at me for two minutes where my family is from, when I was born, that I have a birth mark....I mean these people don't stop staring. (There are only 1.5 billion South Asian people in the world, but every time we meet each other the stare must a be a shock of realization that, yes, there are other South Asian people out there!)
This behavior irks me to my core. Long time ago, I decided that I would fight back. Its comical because I take advantage of this for my personal pleasure. When I get stared at like this, I started to stare back. The stare that is more like, "what you want to fight with me". Then I slowly found that wasn't enough, so I started to stare back steadily, with confidence, relaxed body language (yeah, I know I am cooler then you) with a smirk on my face. That got some responses where the South Asian person staring becomes a bit uncomfortable and starts glances sideways- but NO! they fix their gaze back on me as if I stopped staring at them. I went to the next stage of communication, body language obviously was not enough, where I would say "hello" or "what's up?" or "how are you doing?" and this totally took South Asian off guard. They were really affected by this and I would see them trying to scramble to find a way out of this unexpected conundrum.
I have tried to go back and think of any time where I might have done this. I can not recall ever exhibiting this South Asian behavior or characteristic, so its not genetic. Are South Asian people socialized this way? Many questions come to mind, but I am always left with unanswered possibilities, because each time there is a new twist. With my recent escapade they sat behind me and kept on staring. I could sense it, and to verify I would get up often and go to the counter start a conversation with the owner the waitress and each time they would glance away or rather pretend they were staring into blank space- but that's hard to do when you have three sets of eyes constantly staring into blank space! It only brings me to ask, frustratingly, What's up with that?