“Stupid Jew girl,” said the boy at the bus stop. I was not upset or offended, just a little confused. Was he Indian? Pakistani? I didn’t know (isn’t that just perfect). We were in suburban East Texas; did he think that it would make him blonder, more blue-eyed, to make some sort of dig at me? Did he think I would find being called Jewish to be shameful?
I’ve always been amused that my family was the representative for Jewishness on our block. We had Passover seders, apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah (when we remembered it, coinciding as it often does with my sister’s birthday), we showed our friends chocolate gelt at Hanukkah. But I’ve never been to a synagogue or a bar mitzvah in my life. I didn’t know that Yom Kippur, the holiest of holy days, even existed until I was a teenager. My father wore a cross and went to church every Sunday.
But I was a stupid Jew girl. Sure, man, whatever you say.
For as long as I can remember, people have looked at me and assigned me roles. I’m a lot angrier about my racial/ethnic reception in the world now that I am an adult. As a kid I accepted some subtle humiliations as general awkwardness of the teenaged years. I was never going to be pretty or popular or socially adept, so it didn’t occur to me that it should matter that some discomfiting incidents could be linked to my color, my hair texture, my name, my (alleged) religious identity.
It does matter. It should matter.
With varying degrees of connection to reality I’ve been the Jew in East Texas, I’ve been the American in Brazil, I’ve been the Brazilian in the US (that one was baffling). I’ve been innocuous enough to pass for white. I’ve been, “what are you?”. I’ve been the stand in for a lot of different things. The specifics have not seemed to matter so much as the fact of difference. So maybe I’ll just stand for that.