One of the joys of being mixed-race is that for a lot of people, my face is an open invite for them to approach and start playing the “what are you?” game. Doesn’t matter if I’m waiting for a bus, standing in line for a Daniel Craig movie, or just staring longingly at the Thai lime-and-chili cashews at Trader Joe’s. There’s something about my visage that’s irresistible when it comes to trying to tag me minority-wise. And it’s even better when I decide to fess up since I usually don’t fit the ethnicity they’ve selected for me: “No—you don’t look it.” Or my all-time favorite: “That’s not it—”
So after decades of being an ethnic Rorschach test to strangers, I began wondering: why not make my looks work for me? Heck, I’m ambiguous enough that I look like I was born in a kimono, flamingo dress, or burka. Why not hire myself out to folks who need that little touch of diversity? I’ve even worked up the ad:
Your cocktail parties looking a little too bland ethnically? Tired of friends and coworkers always implying you just aren’t diverse enough? Or do you just want a person-of-color friend without having to deal with the time and liberal guilt involved? Why not hire an ethnically ambiguous, white-collar professional? In other words: why not hire me! Yes, now you can hire your own minority professional for those situations when having a sea of Caucasians just won’t do. As a mixed-race librarian with a questionable ethnic appearance, I can meet most of your minority needs without looking too multiculti, thus avoiding the risk of scaring off administrators, neighbors or that cute person of color you keep bumping into at Starbucks. For a modest hourly rate, I am available for
- Standing behind you during those pesky press conferences when you address why your institution is woefully lacking in some issue that is of concern to minorities and the national media. Nodding in sympathy is extra.
- Publicity photo shoots in which I stare intently at any object representing your business or organization (computer screens, recycling bins, Nobel Prize winning professors, etc.).
- Showing up at the Q&A session for your presentation to ask a question that really is a pat on the back for your diversity efforts.
- Fund-raising events where I stand by your sushi or Mexican hors d’oeurves table and pronounce individual dishes with the appropriate accent whenever someone who counts is within hearing distance.
- Community or civic services where you need someone on your team who looks like the people you’re helping while television crews are recording your efforts.
But why limit yourself to professional events? Why not hire me for those social situations when having a minority BFF is an advantage? For the same nominal fee, I will
- Join your friends or family at the ethnic restaurant of choice and loudly announce it’s the only place in town that serves food just as authentic as “back home.” (NOTE: you pay for the meal, including all the alcohol I drink to get through the event.)
- Make you feel less of an interloper or provide cultural street cred by accompanying you to any desired ethnic event: Obon festivals, Cinco de Mayo parties, pow-wows—you name it.
- Attend dinner parties where I kill time while guests are waiting for you to thaw out Trader Joe’s mini-quiches by letting them play “what’s your ethnicity?” Guests are allowed enough questions before I announce my background and dinner served.
- Don the uniform of your choice while friends are chatting at your home. Impress your friends by having me wandering about in a housekeeper, gardener, or nail technician outfit.
I’m also available for those personal requests, ones where an “exotic” touch is needed for the attention you seek. For a one-time fee, I will provide a photo of me for an online dating profile. Warning: A significant surcharge will be assessed for Craigslist and OKCupid profiles.
DISCLAIMERS : Any event requiring me to lift more than twenty pounds or use a power tool is extra. No actual housework, gardening, or nail buffing provided. Eye rolling permitted whenever colleague, guest, or potential date scoffs at perceived lack of ethnicity. Chopstick in hair and/or non-descript Asian accent extra. No actual dating provided.
Linda Ueki Absher is a humanities reference librarian at Portland State University Library and has been known to use a fork in Chinese restaurants.