Wednesday, January 31, 2007

foreigners at the Target

Target's come out with their Global Bazaar series of furnishings, decor and must-haves. It's nice looking, and I get caught up, especially since I'm slowly transforming the house into this multiethnic, multicolored buzz.

It goes to show how much Americans like their consumer goods, and how often majority culture views ethnic goods as easy, marketable things which will "color" their lives.

But theory is different than practice: I knew it would happen - that Tigrette, my little one, would be at some store and someone would allude to her being "foreign". It happens to all people of color. I was once lovingly told at a Greyhound bus stop that I looked so much like someone's Hawaiian niece, the product of a second marriage to their [white] daughter. My coloring, my frizzy hair.

So, my mother returns from one of her weekly trips to Target with Tigrette and tells me this woman approached her and said how beautiful she is. Again, her "coloring, her hair..." and then proceeds to ask her what race she is. My mother, face stone cold, turns to her and says "The human race. And you?" Nicely said, mater!

Usually my mother would go into a tirade that would include some choice words, a reference to "you people" (which never sounds good) and end with a spanish-language slur about the woman's mother. She must have been in a good mood.

So many things are wrong here: consumerism versus actual appreciation of ethnic contributions and cultural expressions; justification of dominant culture to infer details about an "other" and state them without any fear of inappropriateness; beauty relegated to ethnic makeup based on preconceived notions; false sentimentality and community based on gender commonality. There's more.

And to think Tigrette used to hate having to correct people when they thought she was a boy. This type of assumptive thinking is even harder to recognize and respond to because it's along gender and culture lines. Makes me think of Ronald Takaki.

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