11PM on a Wednesday night, with my girlfriend after hitting the gym in my apartment building. I’ve just finished a depressing three-mile jog-run-walk sort of thing; my girlfriend is spent off of the elliptical. We’re standing in a hallway, covered in sweat, discussing Starbucks beverages or something inane. We hear muffled voices coming from the approaching elevator. The bell rings, the door opens. Five white folk of varying gender and height are staring at us, friendly smiles on their faces. I do the “what’s up?” head-nod, and we step into the elevator. One of the guys clasps his hands together and bows to us. “We come in peace,” he says, still smiling. I do the “what the fuck, haha?” face and another “what’s up?” head-nod. The guy’s friends are still staring, still smiling. “We come in peace,” the guy repeats, bowing once again.
1AM on a Saturday morning, coming home from the bar with my friends—two Asian girls, one white guy. We’re planning to use up a cache of beers that have been sitting in my fridge for far too long. The doorman, who watched us walk out three hours ago, buzzes us in. But he stops my white friend. “Are you with them?” he asks. My friend does a double take. “Uh, yeah.” I wave my hand in agreement, because I’m drunk and non-verbal. “Sorry,” the doorman says, sheepishly. “Didn’t know you were all together.”
8pm at an ID-check line to walk onto a casino floor (because Asians love to gamble, right). My girlfriend and her cousin are with me. I get verified first and then stand to the side, waiting. The bouncer, an old black gentleman, then checks my girlfriend’s ID. As he hands it back to her, he makes a wry observation. “Y’all look like Siamese twins,” he says, motioning back and forth between me (gangly Chinese guy with a wispy mustache) and my girlfriend (who is way shorter than me, way cuter than me, and most definitely not fused to any part of my body).
3pm on a Thursday afternoon in the break room. I’m drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup, surrounded by my co-workers, most of whom are Indian, most of whom are in the US on an H-1B foreign worker visa, most of whom live in the suburbs with their wives and elementary-school-aged children. 3pm teatime in the break room is a rigid tradition amongst my Indian co-workers—a time to gossip and unwind. We notice a printed news article thumbtacked to a wall, something along the lines of “Americans Losing Out To H1B Holders.” One by one, my co-workers lean in for a closer read and an uncomfortable silence spreads through the room. Later, as we’re walking back to our cubicles, I hear whispers behind me. “If they want us to leave, then we’ll leave.”
6pm on a Saturday evening, one week after the Boston Marathon bombings. I’ve just returned to my building after an early dinner. I follow a white yuppie couple into the elevator—they’re holding hands and making sweet eyes at each other. A Middle Eastern family comes in behind me. Two women wearing headscarves, a cute little boy, and an adorable baby girl. The yuppies shift uncomfortably, their lovey-dovey smiles gone. The little boy spins in circles, staring up at the elevator ceiling. When the Middle Eastern family reaches their floor and exits, the yuppie man throws me the “what’s up” head nod, then shakes his head. “God, that was so uncomfortable,” he says, looking at me expectantly.