I remember way back when, in Malaysia, I was, like many of my peers, quite convinced that race doesn't matter, that it's just another thing dividing people, and that I should ignore the colour of my skin and work on what's inside.
I mean, that's what every one with the faintest bit of moral fiber says, right? Beauty comes from within. Work hard and it will show. Bla bla bla.
So when I got to Canada, I was kinda pleased when I made friends fairly easily and one of them said, "when I see you, I don't see a Chinese."
Except that it didn't stop people from talking slowly to me as if I'm fresh off the boat, and expressing surprise when they found I could speak perfect English. Most people I know have asked me a variation of the following questions at least once:
"Where did you learn English?"
"How long have you been speaking English?"
"How is your English so good?"
Never mind that most ESL students are more aware of the grammatical rules of English than most native English speakers of Canada, but it got to the point where I grew really comfortable answering these questions. And then it occurred to me one day that if I really believed that race wasn't a big deal at all, I shouldn't have to feel comfortable answering those questions.
It never quite struck me that I was, in fact, a minority within Canada until I attended a bathhouse event. (Yes, Halifax has a bath-house and Venus Envy used to take it over for a girls (and all woman-identified)-only night. They were fun events where I could go and indulge in my desire to wear as little clothing as possible in a warm space despite it being fall or winter outside.)
So I was at the bath-house, surrounded by other women, all shapes and sizes, in various states of undress, and I was having a grand time, going from space to space, checking out the Purple Wand room, and cool stuff like that, and then I paused in front of a mirrored wall.
And then it sort of struck me (like an internal slap on the face) that I was Asian. And that night, I was the only Asian, in a bath house full of white women.
Something about that moment has stuck with me since then. I'm still having trouble processing what it is.