Asian Americans and Mistaken Identity

“I got an adult small for Jason,” said the team mom of Number Two Son’s basketball team about the team uniforms she handed out.
“Wait, you’re not Jason’s dad, are you?”

No, I am not.  She was mistaking me for the other Filipino kid’s Dad.  One hazard of being Asian-American seems to be that many people can’t tell you apart from other Asian-Americans.  Strangers often ask whether my two sons are twins.  They don’t look alike to me, and one is even several inches taller than the other!  Journalist Lisa Ling is often mistaken for actress Lucy Liu, and she doesn’t always appreciate that, as this blogger attests.  It’s happened enough times to warrant a Yahoo Answers thread, a diatribe on The View, and even a celebrity deathmatch!

Sometimes our identities are mistaken because of the roles that others assume of us.  I remember that John once mentioned that at trade shows, people would assume that he was an engineer and not a product manager.  When I needed to pick up my mother-in-law at Stanford Hospital, I brought in her own personal wheelchair.  After I got to my my mother-in-law’s room, the nurse started ordering me around, assuming that I was just another Filipino Nursing Aide!  The Wife (a nurse) thought that was hilarious.

These are relatively harmless cases of mistaken identities.  Sometimes mistaken identity is not so benign.  Fear of mistaken identity may have been a factor why Lena Yada got dumped by WWE shortly after they acquired Gail Kim.  Far more serious is the case of Chol Soo Lee, who spent 10 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit.   He received neither an apology nor any compensation from the state of California.

Does mistaken identity happen to you often?  Are your cases fairly harmless, or have you run into serious problems?  What are your stories of mistaken identity?

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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