Japan Society of Fairfield County

Culture Watch, Society Watch (8)
by Dr. Ikuko Anjo Jassey

     When I opened the front door, an unexpected visitor, a man who was in his forties, standing there said, "Good morning."  Then he paused one second and continued, "May I speak to a person of the house?"  He identified himself as a handyman.  After about a year later, this time another man who said he was an electrician greeted me in the same way at our front door.     
    Apparently both of them did not expect an Asian woman to appear in front of them.  I wore a T-shirt and jeans on one occasion and a cotton shirt and jeans on another. It seems that for our visitors an Asian woman in those clothes was enough to make a judgment of what she did in this area.  They had mistaken "a person of the house" for a house sitter or a cleaning woman.  What amazed me was that both men did not think of a possibility that I might have been "a person of the house."  It is true that I live in a small suburban town of 18,000 residents of which the ratio of Asian residents is 2.69%, while that of white is 95.55% as of year 2000.  And yet I don't live in a remote area where people don't see anyone but white people.  I live in a town that is reachable within one hour from New York City.  A Japanese woman living in an adjacent town, Westport, told me a similar story in which she was mistaken as a babysitter when she played with her child at a park.  Her child looked more like her husband, Armenian. 
    In these cases, I don't believe that those people, who thought we were a house sitter, a cleaning woman, or a babysitter, discriminated racially. Their stereotypical notion on race, or you might call it a racial divide, simply overtook their mind. I still remember one letter-to-editor appearing in The New York Times several years ago.  A wealthy black man who was dressed in something like a sky-blue blazer, a white shirt, and gray slacks approached his Jaguar, which was just brought up from the garage of the Four Seasons Hotel where he stayed. And when he opened the front door, an elderly white woman, who had followed him, opened the back door of his car to get in, believing that he was her chauffeur.
    In the evening, when I told my husband about being mistaken as a helping hand of our household, he said, "Don't worry. If you are a cleaning woman, I'll become a gardener." (I prefer a gardener myself to a cleaning person since I like gardening much better.) Honestly speaking, I was not worried at all; instead, I would say I enjoyed the incident.  It is a good example of how our latent distinction--of color, age, gender, religion, or ethnic group--bubbles up when we meet people.
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