about  |  life and...  |  business  |  the other side  |  media  |  site gags  |  holidays  
Multi Cultural Me

My Looks Can Be Deceiving ...Apparently.

I was born and in raised in the Bronx, New York. I love the Yankees, General Grant, FDR, BBQ, Nathan's Hot Dogs, and Rock 'n Roll. As a child I thanked God everyday that my grandparents LEFT the old country and to came to this one. Culturally speaking, I'm a Yankee Doodle dandy.

My physical appearance seems to tell people another story.

My family emigrated from Southern Italy. Naples on my father's side, Sicily on my Mom's. I have the swarthy, looks of someone in an Ellis Island re-creation. My hair, when I had hair, was kettle black and curly, my skin always looks tanned, at 5'8" I'm not exactly able to see above the average cornfield.

Herein lies the disconnect. As American as I might be on the inside, I am constantly asked about my ethnic point of origin. After a few minutes of conversation, new acquaintances will inevitably as "the question."

"Say, aren't you from Libya"…or Iran, or Greece, or Tel Aviv, or Bombay or anywhere else that's full of little dark guys.

Over the years I have had many multi-cultural misadventures...

Every cab driver in New York City thinks I'm from their hometown...so I seldom have trouble hailing a taxi. Seeing what they believe to be a familiar face in the rearview mirror the exchange usually goes something like this:

"So' where you from?"
"The Bronx"
"No, where you're really from"
"No, no, tell where you REALLY from. You ever been Yababadoo-abad (or whatever)...you look like my cousin Emil." Since I'm riding in a cab instead of driving one by now they are offering me free falafel and asking if I want to meet their daughters.

Another time I was working as an Art Director at an Internet Ad Agency. As is the industry norm, most of the IT staff was made up a programmers from India. Occasionally, one of them would approach me and ask, in very reverential tones, for advice on starting their own businesses. I came to realize that, aside from my looks, my last name Pilla, is fairly common in India. They saw me as one of their own who had broken through the techno-stereo-type and had gotten a job in the creative department. I was a regular Gahndi, a source of inspiration as they slaved away in C++

I do get mistaken for being Jewish quite a lot, and have had more than a few anti-Semitic slurs thrown my way. From cheap Jew to goddamn Jew, all the way to the classic f_ _ _ing Jew bastard.

The slurs present me with a problems. Since I am not Jewish, I usually don't immediately get the fact that these comments are aimed at me. It's only a block or two later, when I realize that I was the only other person around that it occurs to me that I've been insulted,...sort of.

Now, DO I get insulted? The remarks mean nothing to me. DO I go back and correct the mistaken, but possibly heavily armed racist asshole? Or do I pass the remark along to a more deserving individual. "Hey Moishe, there's a guy two blocks from here who has something he wants to say to you."

Then there are the people who go out of their way demonstrate that they are sensitive to my perceived ethnic background. As mentioned before, my surname is Pilla. In Spanish the double "L" is pronounced as a "Y". So, every once in a while I'll come across someone who will knowingly look me in the eye, while enunciating my last name oh-so-carefully "Glad to meet you, Mr. Pi-Ya".

Not wanting to hurt their feelings, I usually wind up thanking the well meaning soul's attempt at honoring my Hispanic heritage before regretfully informing them that I don't have any.

And then there are the people who simply ask me about my "background" as if ti say "Are you a white guy or what?"

What is this human need to categorize people based on the such superficial information. What difference does it make? All of our ancestors came to this country to redefine themselves, to build society where a person is judged by their thoughts and deeds and not by some preconceived left overs from the old country.

Then again, maybe it's me being overly sensitive. I'm taking a group of random events and weaving them into a minor obsession.

One night I phoned in an order to a local Chinese restaurant. The delivery man showed up about 20 minutes later. He looked like he had just arrived in this country, going directly from the streets of Shanghai to Jade Lake Takeout. As he handed me the bag a familiar look of spread across his face. In barely understandable English he struggled to say..."So, wherea you fum...?"

It's just something I'll have to learn to live with.

Life and...
Multi Cultural Me
In Traffic, No One Can Hear You Scream
Exercise Talk
The Psychic Cab Driver