“But you look Chino!” the Cuban woman says in disbelief, refusing to believe me when I tell her I’m Australian. “You’re not Australian, you’re Chino!” she repeats, fingers pulling the outer corners of her eyes into upward sloping slits.
This was a common conversation I had with the locals during my month travelling around Cuba. The Cubans loved to guess which country I belonged to. China! Japan! Korea! Vietnam! Thailand! By the time they finished calling out every Asian country in their repertoire, they’d be genuinely curious about my home country. But then they’d always argue back that I didn’t look Australian.
The first few encounters caught me unawares. I hadn’t been confronted in a long time. Not since I moved from regional Australia to the bright lights, big city of Sydney. I’d forgotten about the interjections of “Wow, your English is so good!” and questions like “But where are you really from?” Until now.
To the Cuban woman who makes slanty eyes at me, I pause to explain. That I’m Australian-born Chinese. That I speak two languages, enjoy the best of both cultures. That I’m not alone; that our sunburnt country is a melting pot of migrants, refugees, and their Australian-born children.
“So... you’re Chino.” And I know that, like some of those at home, she doesn’t get it either.