What Is He?

momma and archieSpring FlowerssweetgoldenretreiverNmomma pets archiedsc_0315happy portraitHappy Golden Retriever

We took these pictures on Saturday. Just walking the dog, relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather. When I look at these photos, I see the two loves of my life. I see happiness. I see an American looking family. I laugh a little when I think of that. American looking? What does that even mean? I thought the whole Idea was that you can’t “look American.” That anyone could be. To me, N looks like the All-American boy.

Until someone asks me this question…What is he?

It happens frequently. Maybe more frequently than is polite. I know right away that they are referencing his olive skin, his jet black hair, his dark eyes, and his unruly eyebrows (yes, we’ve discussed trimming but he’s very anti-eyebrow grooming. whatever, I choose my battles).

They mean: what’s his ethnicity? Which makes me wonder…what is it that makes us care about that? When I first met N, I too was curious. Was he Indian? Greek? Italian? To a lot of people, N is an ethnic question mark. I think maybe we think that, by knowing a persons background, it will help us paint a whole picture of who they are. But what if that isn’t part of the persons painting? What if it’s not part of how they think of themselves?

After someone asked this at our family Easter gathering, I asked N what he thought.

“When I think about that, I don’t think that’s my main identifier. Like when I think, who am I? It doesn’t really occur to me that I’m Middle-Eastern first, to other people. That it’s the first thing they notice about me.”

And then he asked me, “What’s your main identifier?” All I could really come up with was – generic white chick. How much easier has my life been because I’m vanilla? Because I’ve never been seen as the “other”? I’ll never know. No one ever looks at me and immediately wonders “what is she?”

After years together, there are so many other things I see first when I look at N. I see a whole picture of a whole person who I love dearly. I see the guy who I’ve shared my life with for the past three years.

Although I guess the fact that we keep inheriting Persian rugs should serve as a reminder that our backgrounds are different. But let me tell you, with a big, red Persian rug and my collection of miscellaneous teapots, my living room looks eclectic and fabulous.


p.s. N thinks he looks creepy in the above photo. I still posted it on the interwebs because I think he looks cute. Sorry, N.

  • You know my thoughts on this…as we discussed this over lunch (forever and a half ago!!) I’ll be back up next month. Blate again? xoxo

    • YES! So excited to see you again.

  • Oh he does not look creepy at all! I mean, if he was in a playground by himself in a trench coat maybe, but no worries 🙂

  • Such an interesting topic. Adam, my husband, is super proud of his Japanese heritage and likes to shout it from the rooftop… except, he is redheaded. Meaning… NO ONE just looks at him and gets “what he is”. For him, it can be really frustrating. His closest family member by far, was his now deceased Japanese grandmother who spoke very little English. He misses her like crazy and the outside world can’t “see” the connection, so they often undervalue it. Strange right?

    The only thing N looks like to me is handsome! You are one lucky lady and that is one beautiful family you got going on!


    • Thank you for sharing your husbands story. A redheaded Japanese man is certainly rare! I think we have opposite situations, in terms of how connected our guys feel to their heritage. N doesn’t really feel Iranian, at all. He doesn’t speak Farsi and grew up in New York. He just doesn’t get that people see him and immediately wonder where he’s from. I’d imagine both situations are challenging. I’m lucky that N is always so easy going so when people ask him, he just tells them he’s Persian but he’s from New York. I’ve never seen him offended at all.

  • There are many, many articles written on this topic. But I agree with you…what does a person’s ethnicity have to do with the entire package of who they are as a person? You’re right, for some people, it informs their identity more than others. One of the many things I learned in college is that EVERYONE has a different story, and you can’t assume anything about anyone.

    • Very true. You can’t make assumptions. It seems crazy to me that just because of how N looks, that people make assumptions about him. Common assumptions include that he isn’t American and that English isn’t his first language. Both aren’t true and both are (frankly) a bit offensive. He’s never offended because he’s too calm/easy going but sometimes I’m standing next to him in shock.

  • I think it’s a great photo of him. And to be honest when I saw “What is he” in the title I thought people were asking about Archie. At least my mind isn’t going to race! winning. Although I think people are dumbasses who can’t tell a golden from a lab. THAT bothers me.

    • THAT BOTHERS ME TOO! So much! I’m kind of glad you said that. When people call Archie a lab, I’m like, do you see his long flowing hair? He is very obviously not a lab. It irks me too.

  • He doesn’t look creepy at all, and I’m with N about the brows. They’re perfect as-is.

    • I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that. I’m not in to manscaping but he has a couple eyebrow hairs that are absurdly long and will sometimes go rogue and be like half way up his forehead. I’m just like, can’t we trim those three hairs?

  • I wrote a somewhat similar post recently about people constantly asking me ‘so where are you from?’ as a sneaky way to try to figure out my ethnicity. it’s definitely something I identify with, but don’t see it as my main identifier. I have learned that most people are just nosy!

    • People are definitely nosy. I just don’t get why people look at N and think that either 1. He wasn’t born in America or 2. English is not his first language. Neither of those things are things that you can infer from race. I don’t get it. Sometimes I wonder if I get more offended about these things than he does (probably because it’s my extended family who are the ones asking).

  • Preach. Ethnicity is such a small piece of someone’s whole self. These pictures are gorgeous!

  • I find that I am always curious to know where people are from. Especially if they don’t look “vanilla” or have an accent. I haven’t been able to decide if it is because I’m just simply nosy and like to know things and people’s stories. Or if it is to help me build up the picture of who they are… maybe that is the same thing. I don’t know. But I can’t imagine asking, “What is he?” Unless I was talking about that beautiful dog. Even then I would ask, “What BREED is he?”Sheesh.

    • I was curious about N too, when I first met him. You can’t really tell by looking at him. That being said, I think people have respectful ways of going about it, while others don’t.

  • Creepy? Is he kidding? He looks really cute in that picture!

    It is such a weird question. What is he? Really, what are any of us? Why is it part of the equation? I don’t know. I think you’re right. Some people just think knowing someone’s ethnic background paints a more complete picture of who they are. But it doesn’t.

  • I don’t think about things like this, he just looks like a nice looking fella to me it is more important how he is then what he is, meaning if he is kind and loving that is more important than his ethnicity well it is to me

  • oh I love that you brought this up. I actually have a draft of a similar post but it is a hard one to write (as the person who is constantly asked, perhaps). I am asked this at least monthly but it was more frequent when I wasn’t wearing an engagement ring: men’s favorite pick up line was always, “so, what are you?” Sometimes I would get sick of it and respond: “I identify as female, yourself?”


    okay, I’ll stop because I feel all the feeling with this topic: the good, the bad, and the hilarious.

    • I can’t wait to read your version. I’m sure it’s harder to write when it is directly happening to you. I’m sure that if it was me, that I would be offended more often than N is.

      N really doesn’t see himself as culturally Persian and sometimes it’s a little funny how things play out. We were once in a 7-11 and the guy behind the counter spoke to him in Farsi (which he doesn’t speak). So the guy says in English “where are you from?” and N goes…completely serious and straight faced…”Long Island.” He had no idea what the guy was talking about. It clicked moments later and he goes “oh, my parents are from Iran.”

  • So obviously it’s a Monday and I fail at reading comprehension, but I totally thought you were talking about Archie at first. I was thinking well, I ask people about their dogs all the time. Because I’m interested in how they live up to their supposed temperament. My dog is a typical Labrador and lives up to that. I have a friend that has a pit bull and that dog is more docile than my cat.

    However, to ask about a person’s ethnicity seems very strange. I wouldn’t have thought to ask something like that or even think about it. But I’m also a pretty generic white person so I don’t really ever face any question about it. I’m sorry people are so uncouth. :/

    • You weren’t the only one who thought I was talking about Archie! It’s definitely a strange question to ask another human being. I think “what is your background?” would be more appropriate but he really gets “what are you?” just as I get “what is he?” when people ask me about him. Sometimes I just want to say – HUMAN.

  • I have had this conversation many times with many friends and it is always great to hear different peoples answers, but, as you said, sad how often it happens.

  • I thought you were talking about Archie at first, and I was going to say golden retriever silly 🙂

  • At first, I thought you were talking about Archie too hehe…

    People have asked me, where I’m from? I’m like, I don’t understand. Then they ask, what’s my ethnicity? I look around behind me and beside me to make sure they are talking to me, because to me… I don’t think I look “different.” It catches me off guard, because I honestly don’t know how to respond. I’m Caucasian, but there are numerous people that think I’m something else (I’ve gotten Croatian, Armenian, Peruvian, etc) . Either way, I take it as a compliment.

    However, I would never ask someone what they are or where they are from. I just see them as a person, regardless of their skin color.

  • I get pretty frequent reminders that Angel and I are from different cultures–like when he starts chatting away in Spanish with a random stranger and I don’t even know how that happens (it’s weird. Quite often strangers walk up to him and start talking to him in Spanish. I always ask, “How can they tell by looking at you that you are a native speaker? Because I can’t tell by looking at you!”)
    When it’s just us, I feel like we’re more the same than different. And Angel’s lived in America much, much longer than I have though of course that’s not what people assume.
    Funny thing is, when we’ve visited my adopted home country, in SE Asia, before, people mistake him for a local and speak to him in the local language, and are shocked when this white girl responds to them in their language.
    And one time someone asked him if he was from Oman.
    I think people will always make some assumptions based on skin color…mostly for the worse…
    What does make me happy is that my brunette hair and flamboyantly Spanish surname and the fact that I speak English, Chinese, Spanish and have spent several years in SE Asia is enough to confuse people into asking this white girl, “What are you?” I do like being confusing.

    • I don’t understand how someone could tell that he speaks spanish. But imagine if he didn’t? That’s what happens when people speak to N in Farsi. He just stands there, with a blank look on his face and is like, “I don’t speak Farsi” and they’ll go “but you’re Persian?” and he’s like “Yeah.” Almost like they accept him less because he doesn’t speak their language.

      I’m so envious of your language skills!

  • Such a cute doggie! Also, you & N are adorable! 🙂

    Allie @ http://www.adeezyyy.wordpress.com

  • I get this all the time since I am mixed race. Usually people ask, “Where are you from?” and give me blank stares when I say “…New Jersey.”

    • You and N would get along well in that regard. When people ask him where he is from his first response is always “Long Island.” He can be totally clueless about what they are really asking. It’s sweet.

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