Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The world was America

Today is the 6th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Most people consider it to be an American tragedy just because it happened in the US. But the fact is, dozens of nations lost citizens in the attacks. It happened in America, but not everyone who died was an American citizen.

According to this page from the United Arab Emirates' American embassy, the victims of 9/11 came from 82 countries; including 25 people from Canada, 67 from Britain, 16 from Jamaica, and 15 people each from the Philippines and Mexico.

When most people think of Americans, they think of White people who speak English. But the people who died in 9/11--an event that happened in America--are so much more diverse than that. They came from more than 80 countries in 6 continents. The French newspaper Le Monde said it best with their September 13, 2001 headline: "Nous sommes tous Americains" ("We are all Americans"). It seems like the only thing that's really "American" about 9/11 is its location. If we're talking about the deaths and the loss of human life, 9/11 was more global than anything.

And even if we do consider only the American citizens who died, we still get a racially mixed group of people; most of the victims were from New York City, which is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Undercover half-Filipino girls

Last year, I ran into an old classmate whom I went to school with back in 1998. It was the first time we had seen each other in 8 years, and I discovered something new about her: her ethnicity. When we were going to school together, it was long before I was thinking about race all the time, so I never thought about what ethnicity she was. But I did subconsciously assume that she's White. She had dark brown hair, round brown eyes, and was one of the tallest girls in the class. I guess she looked like a Latina with strong Spaniard blood, but other than that, she just looked White to me.

When I found out what her actual ethnicity is, it was a complete surprise: she's half Filipino (and half White).

A few weeks ago, I found out another old classmate of mine is also half Filipino and half White...I went to high school with her and I always thought she's only Filipino.

Learning about their real ethnicities didn't change the way I feel about them, but it definitely changed the way I see them; which is strange because they've had the same identity their entire lives. It felt weird to "discover" their ethnicities...after I've known them for years. Has that ever happened to you? You know somebody for a long time, then you get really surprised when you learn what their heritage is? I felt like I was meeting a new person. It's like they were wearing a mask all those years--a mask that was only in my mind--and I just unmasked them.

Experiences like these are reminders that not only should we never assume people's ethnicities, but we also shouldn't be shy about asking them about it if we've known them for a while.