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Monday, December 17, 2007

MISTAKEN: Disadvantages of Being a Eurasian Kid

Here in Thailand, a lot of people always ask where I come from. But some, especially the traditionalists, would know I am Thai one way or another. I guess it’s in my body language or demeanor.

As I get a lot of the dreaded question and mistaken identity, it’s not exclusively in Thailand…

I was calledel chiquito griegoin Spain when I was a kid. It means the little Greek boy next door. They call me “l’enfant japonais terrible” in France which means the rowdy little Japanese boy. And in Kuwait, I am the “horrible Indian kid” because most of my friends are Indian and everybody just assumed I’m the leader of the pack.

What strikes me most is; while most people are mistaken by region or continent – like Asian, European, etc. — people mistook me by nationality!

This goes with my name as well Pisanu. As it turned out, it is a famous Italian name. I don’t have an ounce of Italian blood and my name isn’t pronounced as how you read it. Although “Pisanu” is the romantization of my name in Thai; it is actually pronounced as [‘bpis-‘nook].

Being half- Asian, I am almost always stereotyped as Oriental, South American or some Mediterranean kid in Europe. But when I’m in Asia, it’s the other way around! Ha!

Once when I was around 5 or 6…my father had to fetch me from the Mexican Embassy in Brussels. A nice old lady picked me up from a kiddy park (thinking that I was lost) and dropped me by the gates of the Mexican Embassy. Weird, isn’t it?

My mother and I got the encounter of our lives when I was 13 on a trip to Katmandu. There were a lot of people at the airport when we arrived and they were probably waiting for a politician or a celebrity.

On our way out, I had the shock of my life when a hundred people came to me and put leis and flowers around my neck! Gifts and all! Mother was lost in the crowd as I was being shoved farther to the sea of people. If not because mother turned hysterical that people realized that they got the wrong “celebrity”. I was immediately released to my mother’s arms – leis, flowers and gifts taken back. Do I really look Nepalese to them? *giggles*

What makes me wonder is; how do we decide who is which and which is who?
In an era of global village, multi-ethnicity is among us like never before.

How can the way we look surpass our racial identity?
Are we really this backward to stereotype and assume nationality based on looks?


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30 Comments:

Jake Tornado said...

Haha! I somehow share the same problem (but in a "reverse" kind of way). I'm always mistaken for a Mexican kid in almost every place in the US. Maybe because of the little Spanish blood that my mestiza great-grandma had given me. Hee-hee. I'm proud of my bronze skin.

Jake Tornado said...

No, no, no. Weird, but I remember reading somewhere that "Pisanu" is an ancient Assyrian word for "river."

Myfanwy of Belfast said...

This post is entertaining. They mistook you for a Japanese? LOL! And that Nepal incident is wicked!

Pisanu for BISEAN said...

REALLY JAKE? Where? I didn't know that!

My Pisanu is actually a Thai corruption of the name of the Hindu God "Vishnu".

Jake Tornado said...

I really can't remember dude. But I swear I've read it. It's Assyrian.

Jake Tornado said...

Dude, I found it. Here's the entry.

"The river Pison is the great canal Pallakopas, running west and south of the Euphrates (Assyrian pisanu = river bed) and the Gihon with the canal Shatt al-Nil, which runs east from the Euphrates from Babylon and rejoins it near Ur. On the whole this theory seems best to meet the conditions laid down in Genesis, but its acceptance among scholars has not been general." (Robert W. Rogers. "Eden." pp. 5-6. Vol. IV. Samuel M. Jackson. Editor. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Funk and Wagnalls Company. London. 1909)"

Arunny Chantou said...

In a way Pisanu, I could classify you as South American. Maybe because you like to tan yourself. But something hints me that you're just a very tall Japanese pop star or something. :-)

At Jake, that was very interesting! Thanks for sharing. Now I'm thinking to name my future sone, Pisanu. ;-)

Bjarne of Norway said...

This is a crazy world hat don't know what they really like. Give them European, they like Orientals. Give them Oriental, they go for European. It's a crazy world.

Jake Tornado said...

Cheers to your wedding! I smell romance made in Bangkok! (be careful..the gorgeous babe Sofia is reading this.)

Sofia for BiSEAN said...

What do you mean Jake? What wedding? Pisanu and Arunny? Bwarharharhar! Pisanu is like 2 feet taller than her. And she's married already!

Have you seen her article when we met her in Cambodia? She's very kind.

Q The Conqueror said...

I'm often mistaken by my fellow Pinoys as Chinese because of my eyes, this despite the fact that I'm about 3/16th Chinese. I also can't count the number of Chinese people who talk to me in their language >_< I couldn't understand a word.

Interestingly, scientists have discovered that instead of becoming more similar, populations at different continents are evolving separately.

Check it out: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071211/ap_on_sc/evolution_speedup;_ylt=AiZLcouqx15_u8eTsh5VLv5vieAA

eyron said...

same as q the conqueror, but i dont have any chinese blood

and in this globalize world, i think categorizing your nationality based on your looks and appearance doesnt apply anymore.

Yvanlin said...

To q the conqueror and eyron: No wonder Chinese people talked to you in Chinese. They belong to such a huge mass, they tend to assimilate all who "look like" them.
I am myself French-Vietnamese, have worked and travelled in many countries and must say I have heard everything practically everywhere. People of mixed origine are assimilated when they please, and rejected when they displease. Once you know that, you can deal with the situation. Anyway today who is not of mixed culture? And after all, who is responsible for one's birth?

curbside_puppet said...

this is an interesting post!
i've been mistaken for a north indian by a nepalese when i was in davao.
americans mistook me for a mexican too (and i never thought i looked hispanic or american indian).
people from china mistook me for a chinese.
some filipinos, for some reason thought i was fil-am and even chinese. imagine a fellow filipino trying his best to speak to you in english when you yourself can speak tagalog fluently!
one funny incident too was when i was making this conversation with an african-american girl, she mistook me for a jamaican. she said my accent was kind of drawly. i never thought i spoke like a jamaican though.

PISANU: is your dad a diplomat?

Quentin X said...

Mum's Filipino. Dad's Chinese. I now live in Australia. I am 5'8" (taller then both parents) looks half-filipino, half-Chinese with an Australian accent. It can be a bit confusing for some. I have been mistaken for a Japanese, a Korean, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese. At least most of them close enough. But I have had quite a few surprise looks when I tell them I was born in the Philippines.

Quentin X said...

I know of someone who is an eighth Aboriginal Australian and looks nothing like one.

expressmen said...

pisanu is a very nice name. its unique. and i didnt know its meaning until now. i love it. my name is so popular. its like everybody i know has this name. i wish my mom had been more creative :-) i love creative names. back in college, i sat beside a classmate whose name is really so long. i dont know what her mom or dad was thinking, i cant even remember her name, but i do remember her writing through the whole column of the legal pad. it is so weird to have long names...ha ha ha...

TAO said...

Seems to me that being Bisean and or of multiple nationalities has been quite beneficial and an enjoyable experience....

At 6'10" I have been confused with a wall, a tree, and or a sign post...

I had a biker hit me in Kathmandu...and he and his bike ended up sprawled out all over the street...and I was hit by a tuk tuk in Cebu City once....that poor driver he almost lost his passengers...

Jake Tornado said...

@ Tao...dude, there's no "tuk-tuk" in Cebu City. What they have over there are "tricycles". Maligayang Pasko!

chase said...

hhaha..nepalese celeb for a minute.. hehehhe.. that must have been one weird experience.heheh

Preya said...

This is hilarious. People rarely get it right with me. I was asked the other night whether I spoke Arabic. Most people think I'm Persian. Nobody ever guesses Indian (or the German/Irish heritage, haha). Oh well, we're mysterious.

imakidatheart said...

At the rate things are going, give the world 2 centuries and it may be more interesting how people would "identify" nationalities based on how people look like. Hah!

MischMensch said...

Lol my German teacher used to call me Der kleine Latino :P And random people speaks to me in Spanish. It's scary cos I almost got hit up once when I was traveling cos they thought I was a Latina thief or something

Linepigen said...

5! I used to be called the little American Indian girl in High school by my arts teacher. Either that or people would think I was from Greenland. :S

MischMensch said...

Hmmmmm I even get mistaken in my own country and where I am staying now.... in Asia people always think that I am Pinoy or Thai, it is weird sometimes and it's irritating when they say oh you don't look like from your country.....

Erique Fat Owl said...

I'm Indonesian-Chinese, so that doesn't make me bi-racial, but years of living outside Indonesia makes me look somewhat foreign to Indonesian eyes. This I don't understand. I look at myself in the mirror everyday, and I look...oriental. Chinese. Whatever. But every time I went back to Jakarta for holidays, sales assistants in malls, security guards, etc kept on saying "excuse me sir" in English to me. (and don't even start on those sales assistants in Jakarta Airport that kept on saying "annyeong haseyo" to me). There are millions of Chinese -Indonesians in Indonesia. Can't they just assume I'm one of them??

If I'm irritated by this, I couldn't imagine what you've been through, Pisanu!

And also, there's the story about Wentz Eiji, a famous Eurasian celebrity in Japan, who cheered for the Japanese team in the world cup, and then this Japanese man that sat beside him said, "why are you cheering for japan?, aren't you European?"

Wentz Eiji doesn't even speak other languages than Japanese.

And I went to Thailand last year...they also asked "wher yu cam phom?" to me and when I said "Indonesia", they were puzzled like HELL. They thought that all Indonesians look like barbaric terrorists.

To be fair, in Jakarta, if you ask random people "do you know Bangkok?", most of them would answer, "Oh! Bangkok! I know! dirty, same like Jakarta!"

lol

danyhael said...

@jake, most filos look like mexicans anyway.

and c'mon. eurasians are the gods and goddesses in here. you should take advantage of that if you look like one. i mean even if you don't know how to act you could instantly be a "renowned" actor.

blumage said...

How i truly understand all of these talks. I myself ama product of globalization often mistaken for another nationality or whatever.
Even I don't know who i am. I just feel as a citizen of this world and not of a country. I'm a mix of Chinese-Filipino-Malay. It's hard when you look at your relatives realize that you don't belong to neirther one of those sides. Will choosing one nationality over the other mean a betrayal to one of your parents? Is it like choosing the one you love more? Anyway I've been mistaken a lot in my life.
Just today i was asked if i were american. Not because of my looks coz definately i do look asian but because of my accent. 100% asian blood flows in me but my mix genes make it hard for people to tell, even fellow asians have difficulty. Although i was surprised that in the US they think i'm mexican. while in europe i've been called hawaiian or any other south american nationality.
In the Philippines they think i'm Korean. In Hong Kong they think i'm Japanese. In the UK i'm once again American. And even myself get confused on who i am. Being mixed is great and has many advantages no doubt but it often leads to a loss of identity.

Christian said...

Dude, you said that you are mistaken for a Mexican where ever you go. That's because Mexicans, I guess could be considered Eurasian too. Mexicans have Native American genes which are Asian genes, really. Cool, huh? You're not as rare as you thought.

Anonymous said...

filipino is not an ethnicity/race. it is a citizenship. it is a nationality. it defines all people who are citizens of the republic of the philippines.

majority of the filipinos are of malay-polynesian origin. and a good number of them are of chinese, spanish, american, japanese, and other racial mixes. there are filipinos who are ethnically pure chinese or even iberian or caucasian.

been working in singapore for awhile now, and one of the challenges here is when filling up official documents. you see back in the philippines, when we have to fill up documents and race is being asked for, we say malay. here in singapore they wouldn't accept that. they think only malaysians are malays. or that only muslims are malays. i have to call our hr one time to ask for advice, to which i was told to just write asian. problem solved.

one of the appellations we give our national hero is "pride of the malay race" - and that has been recognized for over a century now. shall we lose it because malay is now being used exclusively for malaysians?

anyways, our national hero's ancestors are ethnic chinese. he is probably a mixed of chinese and malay. his name is jose rizal. and i believe rizal is not uncommon in malaysia/indonesia as well.

i am of malay-spanish-chinese extract. my father's father has physically/ethnically no asian/malay trace in him. although he was born and raised in the philippines. he also speaks spanish, english and ilongo. no tagalog.

i think philippines has been multi-ethnic for a long time. some of us, you can't distinguish the racial divide. we just say, mestizo or tisoy. that usually solves the confusion.

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