Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Party Conversation

I lost a game of darts. The queue seemed endless and my beer glass was almost empty too. It appeared to be frosted over but in reality were merely coated with dust – or so I thought. People of all race, size and height crowded the place. Some are scantily clad while others exposed only their faces and hands. The dart game resumed right after I handed over the darts. Few people played pools and most are crowded around the counter. The bartenders had put on a show of their talents in dealing with the bottles and glasses. Game three of the NBA finals between Lakers and Magic is underway, and the cheers and jeers from the crowd even suppressed the loud background music. Slowly, I made my way to the counter.

After what seemed like an hour, finally I ordered two Monster Bombs – I really don't want to be in that line again. An elderly man was beside me. His eyes were following my glass, so I asked if he would like to have one, which he gladly accepted. After few sips, he asked me which team am I supporting. Since the team I had been supporting had lost the game long time back, I had to resort to the mono-syllabic 'none!'.

“Are you an American?” asked the old man with suspicion written over his face. A good reason to doubt my nationality since every Americans will be supporting either of the two teams.

“No, I am not,” I answered. “I am an international student from Bhutan.”

“What? Bhoo...,” he stammered while trying to pronounce.

“Bhu-tan,” I repeated myself more clearly and slowly this time. “It is in the Himalayas between India and China.” Those lines came naturally on my lips after numerous repetition to countless people. His mouth remained wide-open above the chin which is supported by his left hand. While he kept his eye ball rolling, I took my first sip.

“Ohh... I'm sorry.” said the man apologetically. “Now does that make you an Indian or a Chinese?” Perhaps my looks might have confused him.

“Jesus H. Christ! Do I have to teach him A,B,C next?” I silently asked myself. Nevertheless, his innocence was real and I already stirred his curiosity. “See,” I said finally, “I am neither an Indian nor a Chinese. Can we just agree on me being a Bhutanese?”

“Of course! I didn't realize there is a nationality named 'Bhuutoonese'. My bad!” said the old man.

I might have sounded a bit pissed off when I asked him to agree on my nationality. After all he was quite an old man and the possibility of Bhutan's name reaching him is negligible. He shared his love of different American sports – basketball, football (the rugby style one) and hockey – and how it is part and parcel of everyday American life. I thought he's right since no television channel will broadcast anything without some sports news, updates, or clips. People, both old and young, will rather chose to go for a Yankee game than to eat good and healthy dinner for a month. In fact, once I went to meet one of friend and saw his roommate watching a baseball game between Yankees (New York) and Red Sox (Boston). I just asked who was his team and I seriously was only expecting him to name either of the two teams. Instead he stood up, opened his closet, took out the outfits – pants, shirts, caps, etc – of Yankees and was speaking at the top of his voice that he is a fan of Yankees. I could see my friend (who is from Nepal) laughing and I felt like saying, “Yo Dude!! Calm down. You don't have to get too excited with my question.”

One conversation led to another and soon we started talking about the presidential elections. The election of Barack Obama to the white house has been a history in itself. I saw young Americans of all races and gender rejoicing during the presidential inauguration in January – in fact our professor even paused his lecture and watched Obama speak to the nation. The old man I was having the conversation is a black man; Although I'm not sure whether he is an African American or a Caribbean. The election of a first black president to the highest position in the history of United States signifies the final triumph of the civil rights movement which they fought so hard.

“The election of Obama to the White House surely is a history in itself.”I said Hesitantly. “What does it mean to you? The election of the first Black..... I mean African American-”

The old man brightened suddenly. I knew I made a blunder by using a politically incorrect name calling noun.

“Black and African American. Funny you should correct them. See,” he began, “an interesting thing about America is the political correctness. When I was very young, – about sex or seven – they would call us 'Blacks'. When I was your age in the 1960's and in college, they called us 'Negroes'. After the civil rights movement in the south, we are known as 'Afrikans', and it finally changed to 'African Americans'. We're the same people, common!; our names doesn't have to be changed. But, it does and everything is about political correctness.”

I nodded my head in agreement. I felt stupid of myself for trying to change the word; It would have been normal if I just continued using 'Black' and didn't make any attempt to make the word sound more correct. “Well!I mean, how did you feel for having elected an African American as president?” I said finally.

“It's very interesting you would ask me that.” he said. “You know, people say the 'first black president' or 'first black player'. The fact is no one in America has a pure racial heritage now. Obama's mother was a white woman. Tiger Wood is more like you than he is like me. He has more ancestors from Asia than from Africa. I look like a pure black man, right?” he asked.

“Yea, sure.” I replied.

“My maternal grand mother is Chinese,” he continued, “my sister looks like a white. Everyone has mixed race nowadays. But sure the election of Obama to office is a great achievement of 1960's.”

Suddenly I realized that my glass was empty and I want to visit the restroom too. As a concluding question, I asked how he sees America in future.

“People say that America is a 'melting pot' and I really think it should be one. Racial, cultural, religious, political tolerance should be valued. It should become a place where people like you and me can discuss freely like we're doing now. I'm sure it will be one ultimately.” He said.

By then, my bladder could hold hardly any longer and I took leave of him.