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Curious...

Cathy Quinones quinones at mindspring.com
Sat Mar 2 17:00:28 EST 1996


In message <4ha2u2$r53 at netnews.upenn.edu> - aaron at ccat.sas.upenn.edu (Aaron 
Pawlyk) writes:
:>The most common "problem" I've run into is with 'Asian' or 'Hispanic'
:>peoples.  Rightly, these people have the right to be recognizes by a more
:>accurate ethnic background and many prefer that.  But many of us just
:>can't tell the difference between a Cuban and a Puerto Rican by looks/or
:>accent.  

MY pet peeve is when people try to convince me that I can't possibly be 
Puerto Rican, because I don't "look" or "sound" like one.  I usually ask 
"Have you ever been to Puerto Rico?" and the answer is "No, not really..."  
I'm sure some people mean well, but it's a bit disconcerting to have someone 
stand there and try to shove their own stereotypes in your face!

:>Or between a Vietnamese or Chinese person, or between... well,
:>you get the idea.  I am more than glad to have people tell me what they
:>wish to be referred as or thought of.

I agree, the simplest thing is to wait until it IS relevant to ask 
about the person's ethnicity, then ask "ok, this enlightened form wants me to 
put you in a box, what ethnicity should I enter?"  As has been mentioned 
here, any of the available labels is bound to insult someone eventually.

Often, though, I find that a person's ethnicity is NOT relevant to the 
conversation.  Again, I am sure this is just something that people latch on 
to in order to generate small talk but when it happens time and time again, 
it does get old.  Remember, this may be the 1st "xyz-American" you meet and 
you may be sincerely thrilled and curious; the person, in contrast, may have 
already had this conversation twice today, and yesterday and the day before...

:>Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying people MUST be grouped or labeled in
:>any manner.  But it seems situations arise where you end up talking about
:>culture and ethnic groups and you're just at a loss as what to call someone.
:>I don't know what to do; i just try and be understanding.

Just ask if you can't control your curiosity any longer :)  Sincere 
friendliness has a way of shining through.  I don't mind it when people ask, 
but if they take this "oh, look, this is so cute, say something in Spanish" 
attitude, or try to dwell on it (in particular when the conversation had a 
purpose originally), the temptation to tell them "your mother was a hamster 
and your father..." is in Spanish is VERY strong.  (I usually don't use that 
exact phrase because "hamster" sort of gives it away ;)

:>We just all need to understand THIS problem, and respect people's desires
:>as to what they wish to be called.  And we must understand that others do
:>not always know what WE wish to be called.

In many cases, as I said, it is a non-issue.  When talking to students, for 
example, I want to know certain things (e.g., how to pronounce their names, 
in particular when I know there's no way I'm gonna get it right from the 
spelling).  In such a case, I may ask for the pronounciation, write it down 
phonetically, and ask them if they know what the name means, or ask what 
nationality/country/whatever! the name is from; I ask all these things and I 
make it clear I am asking because I don't want to mispronounce nor forget 
their names (which is the truth).  Students seem to appreciate this.  If I 
notice problems, I will ask (during office hours or in private) if English is 
their first language as we discuss problems they may be having with 
essay questions, with following the lecture (and my own accent) or textbook, 
etc...  BUT I only raise this point on a case-by-case basis, rather than make 
generalizations/assumptions about how all non-native speakers will have 
academic problems.  This is a reason so many students ARE sensitive about 
their ethnicity: at some point, somebody probably has addressed a racist 
comment at them, and they may be a bit skeptical any time their ethnic 
background comes up, in particular when the topic surfaces out of the blue.

It's very likely that I make ethnicity a non-issue automatically because 
I, myself, don't appreciate it when people dwell on it for no good reason.  

===========================================================
Cathy Quinones			quinones at mindspring.com
http://www.mindspring.com/~mintz/coverpg.html = bird care info





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