argentina, 1995

August 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I asked him how Argentina differed from America. He had lived in Buenos Aires when he was eleven. There was one other Asian kid at school, a Japanese boy whose parents had given him a trumpetingly ethnic name, a name that was constantly holding him aloft and revolving him before the eyes of his peers. He and the boy were curiosities but not, as far as he could recall, ill-treated. I wanted blazing, flagrant distinctions, unrecognizable bathrooms, appalling dining customs, deviant skylines ahover with secret government pilotcraft, but he said only that Buenos Aires was a tad more quiet than Los Angeles. And that all the food was delicious, and distinguishable from the first bite on to the last, not like in America, where all the food was the same and there were Asian people everywhere he looked, too many in fact. He kept squinting off through the windshield, trying to remember, then shrugging his shoulders in an aggressive manner, as if to rebuke me for asking. But soon more details came over him in a visible wave.

It wasn’t safe to walk down the street at night. Strangers were warm to you. His parents owned a Chinese restaurant, the only Asian one in the neighborhood. He went to a ritzy private school — I didn’t ask him how his family could afford to send him to one, making their living in the hand-to-mouth restaurant business. And that was odd, but interesting, because his classmates were the children of politicians, important businessmen, and the famous.

He seemed at ease with his perambulatory childhood, born in Korea, ethnic Chinese, moved to Argentina, then came here. He had lost his Argentine accent and now he was an engineer. I wanted more details — what was it like? how did they treat someone who looked so different? did he ever wake up wanting to go back? — but the conversation moved on from us.

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