Can I Get a Venti Cup of Ignorance, Flavored with Assumption, Please?

by Marisha

Although I said the next few posts would be about the business, I thought I would lighten it up by telling you a story that happened in L.A. my first year here.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I had recently embarked on this new journey to “The City of Angels” and was excited and hopeful.  I had a plan of stepping stones with which to approach the city and make a name for myself.

I was on my way to meet one of my best friends at the Grove in Hollywood. It is a famous landmark, filled with shops, restaurants, and the Farmer’s Market. They have a Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble there, so to kill time, I went to get a coffee until my friend arrived.

The interior of the Barnes & Noble lo...

The interior of the Barnes & Noble located in The Grove

(To preface, the tsunami had just struck Japan, so you can see where this story is going).

The line was long, and when it was my turn, I ordered my coffee and waited for the barista to ring me up and ask for my card. There was an awkward silence.

Out of nowhere she said, “Hey, are you okay?”

I smiled. “Yeah, of course. How are you doing?”

She acted hesitant. “Fine. I just … am so sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry for what?”

“For your people. The disaster … it’s just awful. I’m glad you are okay and I hope your family is safe as well.”

“I’m sorry, are you talking about the tsunami?”  I couldn’t believe I was hearing this.  “That is so nice, but I’m not from Japan. I’m not even Japanese. Haha. I’m American.”

“Oh. I just assumed that you were involved.”

Bless her heart. “No, I wasn’t. My family lives in America and we are quite safe. But thank you for your concern.”

“No problem. Sorry. I don’t mean to sound racist.”

“You’re good girl. Have a great day!”

I could’ve taken offense to what she said. Maybe I should have. But I only felt that word “ignorance” again and just let it roll off. She obviously meant well, and I’m sure she felt stupid by “assuming.”

In a coincidence, the same thing happened to me in New York City when I was visiting a couple weeks later.  A man on the street bowed at me with his palms together and sent his condolences for the tragedy.

People are so funny. But when will racial assumptions be erased from American society? I don’t have an accent. I don’t dress out of the ordinary. To me, I am just like them. American.

My guess is that it will never be that easy. I wish her the best, though, and the best for the tsunami victims. But for me, I am Korean-American adopted, and I am proud to be an American citizen. 🙂


  1. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    Marisha, thank you so much (again) for sharing. For me (a middle-aged white woman who was not adopted), the most compelling two messages of your post are:
    * Remember that old saying: assume makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me,” so much as it is a human quality to tend to do so, try not to. (In fact, it’s such a common psychological tool to assume or jump to conclusions that there is a name for that tendency: heuristics. You might have learned about them in psychology class.)
    * I love that you reacted with compassion and a sense of understanding to people’s (well-meaning) assumption that you are Japanese. You are a big enough person that instead of being on safari for slights, you recognized that they were only nice people trying to do something good. That’s important.

    • Marisha Castle says:

      Thanks Lisa! It really was a funny experience. But you are right. I think I was more on shock. Than anything so I didn’t really have time to react! And yes, “assuming” can be the most toxic thing in the world!

  2. Hi Marisha, it’s Mom :). Even with the shadow of the tsunami on this, I do like how you’ve taken the high road here and have shown the humor. What is really ironic is how it sounds like something that could only happen in “Mayberry,” but both incidents were in such sophisticated cities–LA and New York. Wow.

    • Marisha Castle says:

      Well and the most diverse cities as well! So weird. Thanks mum. I love that we can share these stories! X

  3. Hi, Marisha — Wow, what an interesting story. Maybe the kindness in these people will lead them to greater enlightenment. I hope!

  4. Well done, Marisha! Perhaps the well-meaning factor makes the cluelessness and stereotyping easier to swallow (pun intended)…but it’s still frustrating at best. The piece also makes me wonder how often we — and I’m including myself here — make all sorts of assumptions about people based on appearance and immediate impressions. Is someone gay? Poor? Conservative? Flat-out stupid? We form instant impressions every day, and lots of them are probably wrong.

    • Marisha Castle says:

      I agree! I am so guilty for making assumptions, even with my own race sometimes! Maybe that was why I was so understanding. Haha but I hope even myself, that we can all step up and try to think outside the lines! Thanks for reading! X

  5. Lisa Ercolano says:

    It’s human nature to use visual and other clues to quickly draw conclusions about people: it’s thought to be a hard-wired evolutionary adaptation that allows us to ascertain almost immediately whether someone is a friend or foe deserving of us fighting or fleeing. Of course, we seldom need to fight or flee anymore, but the impulse is there! Marisha’s essay helps us to remember to take a beat before blurting out questions or reactions and assess whether we might be wrong, which we may well indeed be.

    • Marisha Castle says:

      That was beautifully written Lisa! I agree, the impulse is always there! I’m so glad I responded that way, but I didn’t see any way else to respond knowing how innocent she seemed about her assumption. Still blows my mind a little though. Ha thanks for the amazing comment! X


  1. […] be overly sensitive and get hurt too easily by the comments someone would make to me such as the “tsunami in Japan” incident or my middle school crush telling me “I’m only into blondes.” I […]

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