But somehow, any Chinese person who has risen to prominence or public celebrity is someone all Chinese people get to take credit for.
âDid you see Fionaâs picture in the paper? She got married! Doesnât she look great?â
âUm, I guess.â
My mom went on to summarize points from the article, marveling out loud about how Fiona and her fiancÃ© met, and the challenges they might face with her busy schedule as a member of the assembly.
I tried to slink away, not all that interested in hearing about Fionaâs nuptials.
âWhatâs wrong? Donât you want to see the picture?â
I ducked into my momâs office near the kitchen. I took a seat at the desk and tried to figure out why I felt so crappy.
I once got a letter in the mail from Fiona Ma. When we lived in the Sunset District, we had painted the outside of our house, and when we pulled off a strip of masking tape from the faÃ§ade, a portion of paint from the neighborsâ house that abutted ours had flaked off with it. The area was small, about one inch by five inches, and we hadnât noticed it.
But our Chinese neighbors did. About a month after we painted the house, we got a letter in the mail from Fiona Ma, who was then San Franciscoâs District Four city supervisor. The missive requested, in a businesslike manner, that we settle this dispute with our next-door neighbors.
What was she talking about? Our neighbors hadnât even said anything to us, and now we were the recipients of this nice-but-vaguely-threatening letter with an official seal from the City of San Francisco.
It was a big WTF moment, and somehow so typical of our then neighbors. They were a Chinese couple in their fifties, and the only time they ever talked to either of us was when the woman would stop my husband, Rolf, on the sidewalk to scold him because I didnât speak Chinese. To further describe their neighborly ways, they used to leave notes on our car saying not to park in the space between both our houses. They thought they owned that public space on the street. And although they were both able-bodied, they most certainly expected us to reserve that spot just for them. I was irritated enough by the notes they left on our car, but then that official letter in the mail about the house really riled me. Instead of just telling us in person about the small patch of paint, which we would have gladly fixed, they went all insular Chinese Mafia on our asses and got the district supervisor involved.
I wondered if they were related to Ma or knew her parents. Or had they cold-called her office, and we had simply been sent a standard form letter?
Rolf rang our neighborsâ doorbell and asked when it would be convenient to fix the paint patch. Obviously, he is so much nicer than I am. I had advised him against it, saying it would be rewarding their backhanded behavior.
I said, âHow can you give them exactly what they want when theyâve gone about the whole thing like such jerks?â
âI donât have time to worry about it. Let me just do it and itâll be done.â
So he fixed it. And it was finished. The neighbors were pleased. And I was alone with my seething resentment.
Why did this incident make me so mad? The typical Chinese crappiness of it all caved in my stomach. How many times in my whole life did complete strangers treat me like I was supposed to kowtow to them for the singular reason that we were all Chinese and they were my elders? How many times had I heard in life that I should really speak Chinese? Further, my neighborsâ disregard for basic parking rules, and their passive-aggressive way of invoking Ma instead of talking to me like a human being affected me like fingernails screeching across a chalkboard.
And now here was my mom shoving aside the news of my book in favor of reveling in Fiona Maâs dream wedding. Fiona. My old neighbors. My parents. They all seemed to be on some kind of