It’s November 24th, 2017, the day after thanksgiving. I’m visiting family in the burbs of Chicago. It’s my family, my aunt, my grandparents, and my uncle with his family from Ohio. We’re having leg roast for dinner because you can only eat so much turkey. We still need to have dessert because of course we do. So me, the oldest of the kids, and my cousins hop into a car.
There are 6 of us rolling deep through the burbs listening to new age desi music like Phone by Mickey Singh and Suit by Guru Randhawa ft. Arjun Sarja. We pull up on a Baker’s Square and pop out of the van in the most gangster way possible (not really though). I’m the first one at the door so I take the responsibility of holding the open for the rest of my crew.
I notice an older man leaving the restaurant so I hold the door open for him. He seems to be sulking but not actually. You know the stern face some old people make but they aren’t actually mad about anything, they’re just tired and it takes extra effort to keep a smile. Effort they don’t want to put in because it’s passed bedtime. That’s the face the old man had on.
As he walked out the door, he gave me nod as a thank you. I couldn’t have asked for more, not that I was asking for anything. I was grateful for his acknowledgment and returned a nod. Right after he passed me, an older woman came rushing out. She walks through the doorway and promptly stops for what I assume will be to thank me for holding the door open or her… yeah no, that didn’t happen.
Her response begins with the following:
Old Lady: “It’s so nice of you to keep the door open for me. You know, because I am like 60 years old and these doors are heavy and white American males smack the door in my face. But, I don’t mean to be rude, but YOU PEOPLE…”
Me: *I cringe at “but you people” but I keep an alligator smile and squint so she doesn’t notice me rolling my eyes*
OL: “…But you people, you have morals and respect for older people like me. I don’t mean to be rude but YOU PEOPLE are more considerate. Not like the American males. Where are you from? India?”
OL: “Oh Okay. Yes, so YOUR PEOPLE are great I wish Americans were more like YOU PEOPLE. Again, I don’t mean to be rude. I bet you don’t believe that white American males could be so rude and inconsiderate to old people like me.”
Me: “Yes, I can.”
OL: “Oh you can. So it isn’t a surprise to you?”
Me: “No, not really.”
OL: “Oh ok…” *She looks at the old man from earlier who I assume is her husband. He takes a deep sigh. His back was towards me this whole time but he looked back at his wife hoping she would hurry up so that he could crawl into bed. He’s too exhausted to deal with his wife who does this all the time*
Me: “Well you take care now…”
OL: *Still dazed that I said I was not surprised, walks towards her car*
I finally walked into the restaurant where all my younger cousins were waiting for me and looked at me with concerned faces. I can only imagine they were thinking the worst possible scenario. That’s what people like us who look “different” just do in this day and age. I immediately start laughing to relieve the tension I see in their eyes. It’s hard being the oldest sometimes…
The store clerks look at me a little concerned. I am sure they saw the anxiety in my cousins. They were relieved when I started laughing. My cousins ask what happened. I just say, “I don’t know, that lady was crazy.” The clerk affirms my statement by saying she gave them an earful as well. Finally, everyone settles down and we spend 20 minutes ordering pies. But the whole time, I can’t get over cringing to “YOU PEOPLE.” Especially since this lady assumed I wasn’t American. I could have confronted the old lady and told her with a straight face, “I am American.” But I didn’t want to confront someone so old and ignorant. I couldn’t see any positive reaction out of doing something like that. My patience wears thin but my heart knows better.
This isn’t my first experience with this kind of sentiment and it probably won’t be my last. But let me make it clear. I am American. I was born an American and I will always be an American. I’m more American than most Americans. And if you question my American-ness, you’re not American because you don’t know what it means to be an American. Then again, what’s the point of nationalism… The old lady never even thanked me in the end…