As if Julie Chen's revelation that she was pressured into eyelid surgery to advance her career--a decision for which I don't blame or judge her--wasn't rough enough, it was disheartening to hear her say "many of us [Asians] are born with too much (emphasis mine) fat on the top of our eyes." I'm dismayed by the extent to which a certain standard of beauty/image is engrained in our minds.
I have another persona and his name is Wayne. “Who is Wayne?” you ask. Wayne is the one that orders the pizza. He is the one that calls to make the restaurant reservations. Wayne likes his burgers with sauteed onions and peppers, but no cheese. Wayne gets his doppio over ice with one pump of classic syrup.
But, Wayne is more than just avoiding the inconvenience of having my name butchered. Wayne is for anonymity during those transient interactions with strangers. The exchange of pleasantries with the supermarket cashier. The recounting of his trip to Vietnam to his barber. Answering surveys for the free schwag.
Wayne is also for when I don’t feel like deciphering what someone means when they ask, “Where are you from?” Where am I from? Do you mean where was I born? That’d be two towns over. Did you mean where I grew up? Right down the road.
No, I know what you mean. “Where are you from from?”
This isn’t one of those “things only white people ask me” situations either. My Vietnamese mechanic in San Diego thought I was Mexican until I started speaking in our native tongue...and even then. The Dominican cashier at my neighborhood butcher listed off five Latin countries before I let her know that she was on the wrong side of the planet--let alone continent. The joys of racial ambiguity. Where are you from? The question could mean three different things to me, but always seems to mean the same thing to the people asking. This isn’t to say that I hate when people ask. It’s just not always the conversation I want to have. Nope, Wayne is low key and incognito. He doesn't quite pique people’s interest or invite questions the same way that Việt does.
But above all else, Wayne is escape...escape from a joke that’s plagued me my entire life.
No, my last name is not Nam, nor is it my brother’s name.