I cringe at eye contact, or rather, I feel deeply embarrassed when people stare at my partner and I walking side by side, hand in hand. In those eyes, confusion, unfriendliness or even aversion is written.
My partner, D., is a Sri Lankan from Seattle. He has brown skin, while I’m a light-skinned Chinese living in Canada. Most of our time is spent in Vancouver, Canada. but wherever we go, the scorching look written in people’s eyes is an unavoidable possibility.
When D. took me for a drive to Kitsilano, where we can always enjoy miscellaneous food, a nondescript car stopped beside us, awaiting the green light. It’s an ordinary moment that we encounter daily. But what made the moment everlasting is when the light-skinned Asian man in the car rolled his window down and looked at us, eyebrows raised.
D. looked away from the man and whispered to me before the light went green, “He must be wondering why this Chinese girl is dating a black guy?” I know he feels hurt, and I do too. It’s not the only time when D. has shrugged the pain off by referring to himself as just “a black guy.”
Hanging out at Shoppers Drug Mart, we once met a Caucasian lady that looked at us as if we were aliens. Even in a queue for steamed buns in Vancouver’s Chinatown, a Chinese man in his forties walked past us and then turned around just to look back and forth between us.
The worst experience I’ve ever had is when we took a road trip to the U.S. D. and I were both tired, and we pulled over at a casino by the highway. We met a woman in her late forties inside the casino. She stood by a gambling table and seemed sluggish after a long day.
However, her fatigue vanished and something fetish-like was triggered as soon as she spotted us although there was a big crowd of gamblers, some of whom were losing their minds by losing their money. The woman somehow ignored the insane crowd and focused on D. and I.
From hair to shoes, as concentrated as she could be, the woman looked at my partner. That moment lasted a long time, and for the first time I stared back at a person staring at us and wondered where her superiority came from – she’s just as nondescript as any woman in her late forties.
After many agonizing, sleepless nights, the same old question looms ahead – why are interracial couples so offensive when North America has a diversity of racial minorities? It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer, and I know it could be worse in my home country of China where very few minorities give rise to a ridiculous pseudo-white privilege, where a Chinese girl marrying a brown or black boy can be a news story and target of ridicule.
In this sense, I feel lucky that I live in Vancouver and that my partner met me in this city. It’s a city we can call a melting pot, where we see couples and families just like us.
One mild afternoon, Daminda and I were taking a stroll on Commercial Drive when a brown father walked by with his two light-skinned children. As we saw one another, all five of us smiled with blessings.
That moment reminds me of a famous verse in Chinese, translated as: “As you are enjoying the scenery on a bridge, upstairs on a tower people are watching you; the bright moon adorns your window, but you adorn others’ dream.”
Interracial couples can be a kind of scenery as well that adorns the city, and it’s simple to replace a grimace at these couples with merely a smile.