There’s always a brown person on the other side of the counter, handing me my bagel or my donut or my junior bacon cheeseburger. I hope that my yellowness is enough.
Though it isn’t when I get my nails done. When they look at me sideways and ask where I’m from. When they say without me having to ask where they’re from, or when I feel the question slip from my mouth, an automated response which assumes courtesy.
Am I allowed to identify with the struggles? Am I Minority Enough for some people? Is my experience being stereotyped, racially profiled and discriminated against proof that we’re somewhat on the same side? Do I have a dog in this fight?
Is it really so horrible for people to assume I’m good at things? Do I only resent it because I’m not?
Either way, I come with this face and “Chicago” written on my birth certificate and the majority of people can’t wrap their heads around my parents perfect English and are surprised to learn I wasn’t coaxed into a profession that saves lives, either in emergency rooms or courthouses.
It’s tiring. It’s why I liked blending into the anonymity of Japan’s crowded streets, though I couldn’t shake the constant fear of being spoken to or asked a question in their native tongue. I just wanted to walk among the masses and not have to justify my existence.
I know nothing of the country my deceased grandparents were born. Even less about the camps they were forced into within America’s unwelcoming boarders.
Taste of Lebanon is not trying to be anything other than what it is.
A tiny restaurant with a small menu whose prices barely change and a stream of varying customers all descending at different times for a comfort that is reminiscent of home. I’m here for the lentil soup and the falafel wrap. I always forget to ask for extra tahini and sometimes feel I’m missing out by not adding hummus. The baklava tempts me every time.
My home is not Lebanon.
Sunshine Cafe is my favorite restaurant in the whole city and sits quietly next to the “Jesus Saves” church. Since I started going in the early 2000’s, not much has changed. They upgraded their tables. They closed for awhile when the owner had surgery. Their prices have slowly climbed. But everything tastes exactly the same. I want one of everything on the menu whenever I go. Sometimes when I’m there alone, I’ll have two appetizers and an entree.
I used to turn down the miso soup.
I used to be stupid.
In the summer, we’d ask for ice cubes to drop in the steaming complimentary green tea.
My home is not Japan.
But it is Andersonvlle.
I’ve had five different apartments in this neighborhood: Catalpa, Rascher, Catalpa, Winona and Glenwood.
The store fronts and restaurants on the small strip of Clark Street have changed. But it’s always familiar.
I miss the video store and the card store. I miss walking past the old jewelry shop that I never went into, which is now annoyingly a Potbelly’s. I miss the Italian bakery that didn’t make it. Especially their gelato. I miss the every day-ness of that one diner with so-so eggs.
Then there are the things that still remain. The bakery with the marzapan cakes served at every former family gathering. The hippie dippy coffee shop. The Persian restaurant whose smell of kabobs fills the air, especially before they open their lunch buffet. The Middle Eastern bakery with its amazing fresh pita bread.
My parents had their wedding reception at the Ann Sather’s, which is closing at year end.
My first apartment was perfect in so many ways. A large one bedroom separated into quadrants, hardwood floor running throughout. A back deck and a faux fireplace. A footed tub. A pantry. The front door had frosted glass like an old doctor’s office.
The nicest piece of furniture I have ever owned sat in my bedroom. A birthday present. A naked vanity my dad and I finished together in the basement of a house they’ve lived in for twenty years. I sold it when I moved in with a boyfriend a few years later.
I adorned the place with adolescent things like a futon and t.v. stand made of metal and wheels. I filled the walls with framed photographs. I lit candles that sat on the mantle. The shades on the windows that came with the place sufficed. I never bothered to buy curtains.
It’s the kind of place I only dream about now, ten years later.
I threw lots of parties. I was broken up with in my bedroom. I would lie on the floor and listen to my neighbors having sex sometimes. I made music on my computer. I ordered a ton of Thai food. Sometimes I’d cook.
I’d talk to my mom on the phone about how I constantly questioned my existence. But all she heard was the inference of suicide.
It was the first time I’d ever lived alone and the freedom and terror were all wrapped up into one.
This was the beginning of my adult life and it seemed there was no turning back.