Charity C. Tran
I sat at the back of the Metro 204 bus, as it made its way north up Vermont Avenue and through LA´s Koreatown in the evening. In the back of the bus, the seats are placed so that passengers face each other.
An African American man in his mid-fifties, gray hair lining the edge of his face, sat across the aisle from me. He decided to make small talk – not to me, but to a young Latino man sitting stone-faced next to me.
This older man began to make comments about the area and his opinion of its people.
He said, "This area is ghetto...full of ghetto people - Thais, Koreans, Filipinos..."
As if all Asian people are ghetto, but not all ghetto people are Asian.
He said this while looking at me cautiously.
At first, this Asian woman thinks to herself, "Does this man want me to participate in this conversation?"
But he kept on looking away from me, obviously talking to the passenger beside me who was ignoring him.
I would have probably acted the same way as this Latino man, staring blankly in front of him and minding my own business, except the man talking kept on looking at me, while not talking directly to me.
His eyes spoke more to me than the judgment of his speech. As his mouth moved with his racially discriminating conversation topic, his eyes seemed to ask, "Does she know English? Does she understand what I´m talking about – about her people…whatever her people are? If she understands, will she talk? Asians don´t talk. Asians might be ghetto, but they´re quiet ghetto."
Because he´s looking at me and referencing the area, this Vietnamese-American college graduate, on a bus to go home to Koreatown, decided that she might be ghetto, but didn´t have to be quiet: "Actually, many different types of people live in this area."
The man didn´t answer me. He continued to speak his opinions to the passenger beside me, still ignoring him.
The man added, while still glancing at me, "And they all go and spend their money elsewhere - in the Philippines. I spend my money here in America."
And so I replied earnestly, "Good for you. Your country´s economy needs you."
The man became quiet with my words. I can´t say it was an awkward silence because it began when my stop was up next.
I pulled the stop wire and stood up, readying myself for my exit.
I figured I´d leave this man to his opinions and his own devices, having attempted to put in my polite two cents.
The man chose this time to finally speak directly to me.
Did he talk about economics, race, social class – the thin tarp of material covering our fragmented conversation two seconds earlier?
He asked, "Are you married?"
"Are you married?"
I shook my head, "No."
He looked at me directly and assessed, "You´re the single type then."
I tossed the word – "single" – in my head, rolling it like the wheels of the bus nearing my stop at Vermont Avenue and Sixth Street.
Like his categorized views of my LA neighborhood, the word wasn´t quite fitting and so I found a more appropriate word.
"Independent," I replied. Walking down the steps of the bus, I called out behind me, "Have a nice evening."
Out of the corner of my eye, I think I saw him smile.
I know I heard him say, "You too."
But as the bus pulled away from the curb and I began to walk home, I wondered what the man´s eyes had said to the independent Asian-American woman who cared about her country´s economy.