Certain species of penguins mate for life. If you’ve seen March of the Penguins, the burning question is, “How can they tell each other apart?” The common sense answer is “Because they’re penguins.”
Penguins can tell each other apart because they’re penguins; we can’t tell them apart because we’re not penguins — to us, all penguins look alike. For example, because I’m not Chinese, all the characters in a Chinese movie look alike to me. Movie producers understand this phenomenon, that’s why the characters wear trademark costumes – so non-Chinese viewers like me don’t come out of the theater asking, “Which one was Sammo Hung?”
My mother was half-Spanish with fair skin and a pointy nose, but I acquired my father’s thoroughbred Filipino genes of morena skin and pug nose. I blend quite well in the Filipino populace. Naturally, I can easily tell my fellow-Filipinos apart.
Then I was sent to Germany.
A pair of white, blonde-haired kids stared at me, an alien in their midst. They gawked at my raven hair, dark eyes, brown skin, and flat face. That morning at the train platform was their awakening. There are non-Aryan-looking humans on earth. Filipinos. And they all look alike.
Then I came to the United States.
The lovely lady at the craft store, the old man at the theme park, the bald guy at the chicken restaurant (just the three I can remember right now), they came up to me and said, “You look familiar. Have we met?”
They prodded me to help them connect the dots. “Do you work at Whirlpool?” (No.) “Did you live in Ocala?” (Never.) “Where do you work?” (I don’t.)
And yesterday, at the supermarket, a little boy stood in front of me, looked up, and excitedly pointed his finger at my face, “I know you!” (No, you don’t.)
To all of them, total strangers to me, I smiled and said, “No, I’m sorry.” In my head, I added, “You mistake me for another Filipina – we all look alike.”
I don’t blame them. I’ve been in America a while now, but still, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, African American, Ferengi, they’re all large groups of penguins to me.
[Footnote: These strangers came up to me in high spirits, so whoever made me look familiar to them must have made a good impression. Kudos to the Filipina!]