I recently moved to small town granola Pacific Northwest America. This is a move that some of my urban chauvinist friends of color have found a bit shocking. Spending time walking the trails, conscious dancing, drinking yerba mate and eating quinoa, allowing the sea to buoy my heart in its hand, singing world music in the community choir, wrapping myself in the bone-gray North Face fleece of the cloudy sky… all of this is healing my battered old soul housed in a body that looks far younger than its 30 years.
I have received a warm welcome here. After years of my radical poc hating on “hippie shit”, it’s a relief to embrace the woo. What no one says is that people wear loose hemp and bamboo-fiber knits and drawstring pants because that shit is comfortable, they dance with their arms floating like tree branches because it feels fucking good and sometimes literally hugging a tree is the only thing that can ease my chronic anxiety; a disease inherited from the familial heartache of Partition and the bald shock of immigration and the yearning of village people turned to city dwellers in two generations.
I expect that people will not always know how to acknowledge my browness in a comfortable way. I see their fear that I might enter their long standing, hard won communities and start clamoring for more sensitivity to my angry woman of colorness. I am not interesting in bearing the cross of guide to cultural competency- I’m a believer in choosing my battles. If there’s a fight against racial profiling by the cops, I am there, but otherwise, I won’t bother. So when someone starts listing all the Indian names they know or tells me they don’t “have a position” on my being from a Muslim family, I shrug my shoulders. I try to be polite when I’m confused for the one other Indian woman in town, partricularly since we work in the same store. I hope that by overlooking these faux pas, they will someday forgive me for not recognizing them when I meet them on the street, out of context from where I know them. At least I know to be ashamed that all white haired hippies look the same to me.
I had a moment, though, this morning. I walked into the lovely coffee shop with a beautiful view of the Salish Sea just as the barista was speaking loudly in a caricatured Indian accent. It was the second time in 24 hours I had heard someone use a terrible Apu-style accent and I feared being pushed to my edge, having woken up tired and worn out this morning. At least this time the accent was topical; the barista had made an extra chai and was offering it to the public. He offered it to me. Without an accent this time. Of course. If the hilarious happenstance of an Indian person walking into his lily white coffee shop and catching him being re- handedly offensive caused him any shock, it did not register on his face.
Here I faced a dilemma. I wanted the chai. I really wanted the chai. But. I could. not. take. the chai. My misplaced duty to blow up stereotypes got in the way.
I said “NO” in a tenor voice and ordered an Americano. I had to. When the barista asked my name, I said “Rose”. Even though I don’t want to be known by that Anglicization of my name in this small town, it has long been my policy to give baristas the second syllable only. Why?
Because if someone calls me “AAAH-froze” like the Black Power hairstyle before I have my morning coffee, I will cut a bitch.