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I know you addressed OT, JB, but let me stick my 2 cents worth in.

A lot of us like to know who or what someone is, otherwise we're uncomfortable. Among Jews, the game is called "Who's a Jew" and the guessing starts. Gays do the same thing about whether this or that famous person is really gay.

In San Francisco where there are many Asian countries represented in the population, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Hmong, etc., I don't think there's a lot of asking "what are you" that occurs. But when one of the youngsters encounters some of the more insular Americans from the interior where there isn't such an ethnic variety, the first question is likely to be "What are you, Chinese" or suchlike. This drives the person asked slightly nuts, because no one likes to be "placed" so obviously, and usually the answer is American because the person is here through the 3rd or 6th generation.

It drives Americans slightly nuts not to be able to place everyone else, however. So you tell them something and they're happy. It's why Tiger Woods described himself as Cablinasian, to account for a variegated ancestry, Caucasian, Black, Indian, Asian.

The U.S. Census Bureau usually raises hackles by trying to categorize people into ethnic or racial categories that don't fit them. Of course there's money and political power riding on this one, which helps bring the issue into sharper focus.

It sounds like your lunch companion is slightly conflicted about what he's thinking and what he's saying, habits that probably go back a long way. I don't know how you get him to open up about such things if he doesn't feel like it.

Tell him your mother is Jewish and watch his reaction. He'll probably say something like some of my best friends are Jewish. :)


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