“Yo, Chinaman, your mother made me fried wings last night.”
I had been walking up Nostrand Ave. after getting out of work late one weekday this particular statement was thrown at me as I walked by a group of drunk black men in front of Vodou Bar. I had gotten off a crowded A train, into the particularly stale, urine-filled air of the station, and walked up to the sooty, we-never-left-the-90s vibe of Fulton Street.
“Those wings were tasty.”
Perhaps he was annoyed that he saw a well-dressed Asian man walking up to a neighborhood that was once avoided by colors like myself. Maybe he had really good wings from a Chinese place last night and that was his way of showing his appreciation. Maybe he was just really drunk and wanted to be obnoxious towards this handsome stranger.
I remember walking away from the raucous laughter that followed. I pretended that it didn’t bother me — but it did. A point of contention for me, at least, is when people call me Chinese. This has been the case since I attended elementary school in The Bronx. I never understood their resentment towards the Chinese or the idea that calling an Asian of unknown origin Chinese is belittling them.
But my question is this — why did he single me out? Did he know I was Korean (if so, props to you, sir, for getting under my skin within the first two words of your sentence)? Was it a sly remark at him having my mother over for a night? That she made chicken in his kitchen, using his pans and his oil? Or was it that he bought fried chicken from her — that she served him chicken, instead of the other way around. Was this a subtle play at dominance over me? Over my race? A challenge, perhaps in the guise of verbal antagonization? Sometimes, I pretend that it was his desire to outwardly display his gratitude to a person that he thought to resemble the person that cooked the wings for him. (Is that a stretch? Am I being too optimistic here?)
What I do know, is that I have never seen that man again, perhaps whisked away by the Chinese Tongs after he made such an outlandish statement — or decided to get fried chicken from that Chinese place where he thought he saw my mother — for the record, she does not work in a Chinese restaurant, nor is she Chinese, and probably has never seen this man before in his life (and if he has, I wonder why he didn’t say anything else, like “Say hi to Sophie for me!”) — and got severe food poisoning and had to be hospitalized for a week. One can speculate on such things, but something we can’t overlook and mull over is the fact that my mother has never, ever made me fried chicken. There’s always Crown Fried Chicken, I guess.