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“Excuse Me, But Are You…?”

I am often mistaken for somebody elseI am often mistaken for somebody else. Just the other day, for example, a man approached me, smiling, in the cafe (see my essay) where I go daily to write. "Kyoko," he said, "is that you?" Another time a woman came up to me to tell me how much she had enjoyed my recent recital at Alice Tully Hall. I was, she told me, her idol (I think she had confused me with the pianist, Mitsuko Uchida). And once, a man who had struck up a conversation with me on the subway refused to believe, when I told him I had gone to Yale, that I was not the famous architect, Maya Lin. And two very different people — a blond flight attendant on a Delta Air Lines flight out of Minneapolis and a gay black neighbor in my building — have told me that I bear a strong resemblance to the bridal designer, Vera Wang.

I have also been told, on more than one occasion, that I look like Yoko. A young man gathering signatures for Greenpeace in front of Starbucks told me this. The man who always comes into the café, high as a kite, to use the restroom told me this. An older woman walking her dog one morning down Broadway told me this. We were heading in opposite directions, so I just smiled and kept on walking. But then she called out, "Turn around," and, although I am not normally a person who follows orders shouted out to me by strangers on the street, I turned around. "It's the way she walks, lowers her head," she said. I nodded, then lowered my head and kept on walking.

Even my own mother has told me that I remind her of somebody else.Even my own mother has told me that I remind her of somebody else. One evening, after supper, we were sitting at the kitchen table when she looked at me and said, "You have the same nose as the first girl." "What first girl?" I asked. "The first girl who was born before you," she said. My mother, who was then in the early stages of Alzheimers, had never mentioned a first girl to me before. When I asked my father about this, he explained that there had been a daughter born before me who had lived for a few hours and then died. So, really, even though I had always thought I was the first (and only) girl, I had been the second girl all along, which probably explains why I am never surprised when I am mistaken for somebody else. I expect to remind people of the person they want to see. It's coded somewhere deep down in my DNA. And mostly, I am happy to oblige.

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Julie Otsuka is the author of When the Emperor Was Divine. She is a recipient of the Asian American Literary Award, the American Library Association Alex Award, and a Guggenheim fellowship. The Buddha in the Attic is her second novel.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. When the Emperor Was Divine
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  2. The Buddha in the Attic
    Used Hardcover $10.50

Julie Otsuka is the author of The Buddha in the Attic

One Response to "“Excuse Me, But Are You…?”"

    Larkin Vonalt August 23rd, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Many people of European ancestry seem to think Asians "look alike," and if you're not that famous person, you must be related. My husband (who is Chinese-American) and I were at a Lang Lang concert in Denver when some nice white ladies said "Oh, you must be Lang Lang's relative!" On the other hand, a waitress at a Waffle House in South Carolina once insisted that he was a Cherokee and could not be dissuaded from her belief.

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