by Archy Jamjun

Story Summary

A server navigates the sometimes subtle and sometimes blunt racial comments he receives while working at a restaurant.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you were in Archy’s position, how would you react to the different situations presented in the story?
  2. Do you believe the world is divided by two kinds of people?
  3. Archy wishes that the people who were eating dinner with the rude man had said something. What difference would that have made to Archy?
  4. Do you speak up when you hear inappropriate comments? What’s hard about doing that? What difference does it make when people take a stand?

Resources

  • The Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Themes

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript
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Hi my name is Archy Jamjun.

I’ve been a server for almost 20 years. I’m in danger of becoming what we call in the industry, “A lifer.” And, sometimes, when I’m tying the strings to my server apron, I think about a quote from author Sherman Alexie. It basically says, “The world is divided by two tribes: those who are jerks and those who are not.”

Now, most people I meet are absolutely lovely, but like with any job I’ve had to learn how to deal with jerks. Now I smile and laugh a lot. Often with the sincerity of blinking. I’ve learned in my own ways how to deal with “hangry” people. They need to be coddled a lot. And I am patient with people who think that menus are simply a blueprint for their own imagination. But, sometimes, I’m still caught off guard.

It was a summer of 2016. I approached a two-top and a woman with redhead, red hair said, “You know, you are very tall for a Chinese person.”

“Oh, uh… thank you,” I said, “but I’m not even Chinese.”

“Yes. But admit it. You are tall for a Chinese person.”

I love this story because she is so wrong, but she’s just a little bit right. At 5’8″, I am 2″ taller than the average Chinese man. I googled this. And I do tower over my family, but they are from Thailand, which is not the same as China, which is not the same as Asia. Facts that might have blown this woman’s mind.

But I knew the moment only really called for a laugh. And to be quite honest, I don’t always have the time to be the center for the understanding of Asian peoples. And just to be truthful, I’d rather laugh at someone than be angry with them. But that is not always the case.

“There is cheese on my burger, and I am lactose intolerant.”

It was a six-top in the spring of 2017. They were a business table. ” Oh, I’m so sorry, sir. I can get you a new burger in just a few minutes.”

“Sorry? I don’t care if you’re sorry. I don’t care if you crawl across this floor and beg me for my forgiveness. You people never understand me. You people have ruined everything.”

Cue the intense smiling. Now, I admit I messed up this man’s order. Because when he said, “No cheese.” I heard, “Cheddar, please.”

Because when you’re a 50-year-old businessman who orders a $15 hamburger instead of a $65 steak like your friends and your boss is paying, we just don’t speak the same language.

I cannot admit to knowing what everything my people have messed up. To be quite honest, I don’t even know what he meant by “you people”. I mean, have that many Asian people really tried to feed him cheese?

Or is it my gay fabulousness that he was referring to? See, what “they people” don’t understand about “we people” is, is that when “we people” get called something like “you people”, we have two seconds to decide whether you’re a regular jerk or a racist jerk. Whether I am being overly sensitive or if I get my chance to check you, boo.

Fight or flight! These are the moments when you want to prove your dignity. There were so many things I wanted to say to this man, but because my paychecks are cute and no man will ever stand between me and a sale at T.J. Max, I chose flight.

I took the burger and went to the kitchen and started a new one and then I had my manager take it out so I didn’t have to talk to him anymore. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as telling him what was on my mind, but, you’ll learn, every job makes you swallow your pride every now and again.

As the night went on, I told my co-workers what happened and we did what we always do to terrible people: we go to your tables and fart. It’s called crop dusting.

But you know what would have been better? What would have been cool is if some of the people at the table at the time – the people who would have tipped me extra later or say, “I’m sorry” – would have done something about it at the time. Maybe one of them could have said, “Hey! Hey! How about you not be a jerk over a hamburger!”

Or even something more subtle like tapping him on the knee looking him in the eye and saying, “Bad white person! You’re being a bad, bad white person.”

See, in the rare moments when someone has done something like called me “you people” and someone else notices, I feel like that’s my cue to star in my own movie about the civil rights era. But when it happens and nobody else seems to notice, it starts to feel like the Twilight Zone.

Now, I don’t actually believe the world is divided by two people. I don’t think the world is divided into jerks and people who are not jerks.

I do think it’s true that there are some people who never stop acting like a jerk. But I think it’s up to us to decide whether we’re going to be a jerk or be something better.

Now people often equate kindness with weakness and anger with strength. But I think the opposite is true. I think it’s much harder to navigate this world and find a way to be kind and it’s much easier to walk around just reacting. Which doesn’t always lead to being a jerk. But it’s all that is required to be a jerk.

So, in the end, I really think that kindness is like a muscle – something you’ve got to work and try to flex as much as you can.