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.