Happy Lemon

I went to Costco today and after that I went to a Happy Lemon nearby. I didn’t get a chance to buy my weekend regular milk tea yesterday so I wanted to get one today while it was still a weekend. With a Happy Lemon so close by the Costco, I couldn’t possibly miss the chance.

There weren’t a lot of people. Only one table was occupied, with a few girls sitting around it, nibbling the bubble-looking egg pancake together. In front of me there were two persons, one a man, one a girl, apparently a father and a daughter. They were not very tall. They had dark brown skin.

It took some time for them to decide their order, so I just stood behind them, dutifully maintaining my 6-feet safety covid distance. After they finished ordering they walked a few steps to the other end of the counter, waiting for their drinks, patiently. I stepped to the front and ordered my usual Jasmine tea with crema.

We had to wait. Different drinks kept coming out, but none of them were ours, not theirs nor mine. Looked like most people were ordering from home, on such a gloomy, rainy day. Finally one of the waitresses started calling out an order number. The father was a bit panicky. He fumbled around, searching through his pockets. Realizing the search was vain, he went to the trash, trying to see if he could retrieve his receipt from it. Failure.

Then seeing that I was the only other person waiting for an order besides them, he immediately came to me and smiled. I wanted to tell them “your order number is 204,” but somehow what I said was instead “you gotta remember what you ordered, right?” He didn’t say a thing, and I didn’t waste more time either, unfolding the paper receipt in my hand, a bolded number “205” showing at its top. He saw, and said, “Two-oh-five, then we are two-oh-four, thank you.” He walked back to his daughter, and not long the voice behind the counter called “two-oh-four!” It was only one drink. Purplish liquid with some white clouds in it, I assumed must be taro and milk. The girl took the drink with some shyness, heading to the door with her dad. When the father passed me, our eyes met. He smiled at me politely but warmly, and said, “thank you.”

Hmmm, I guess they are probably Mexicans, I wondered in my head. But then the man’s smile wasn’t slightly apologetic, the most common smile seen in Mexicans. It was also not the official, professional kind of smile of white people. Not a hint of contempt or aloofness behind it. The smile had a touch of warmth and came with a non-threatening dignity. I was quite confused, to be honest. I wondered what were they.

Soon my tea was ready. I grabbed it, crossed the now long line, and got back into my car. I had just turned on my key and noticed the SUV to my right had started humming. Sure, you guys can go first, I thought. Must be the dad and his kid. After they were gone I backed up my car quickly. I wanted to enjoy my drink at home when it’s still cool.

There wasn’t much traffic around so I happened to follow their SUV. It was a Toyota SUV, olive green. I thought, my dad had a similar one. Not the same model, not the same color, but also a Toyota SUV. Then I saw something, right in front of me on the butt of the car. Where it was usually “Washington” on the car plate, instead, it said, “Yamaka Nation.” So they were not Mexicans. They were indigenous people. They were natives.

What had I been thinking.

Surely they couldn’t be Mexicans because this was not California. And because this is Washington then obviously they are indigenous people. It all felt so straightforward in retrospect, but my gut only told me something was distinct with the father and that they were not any kind of people I have met before. The way they behaved in the boba store, it must be the first time they ordered a boba (or at least the father’s first time), with all the hesitancy when ordering and then unknowingly throwing away that important receipt. The way the man smiled, a genuine smile. And, now it all made sense to me, that under their dark brown skin, there was indeed a very subtle shade of crimson.

When I got home I looked up all the tribes and nations in Washington. I also realized how awful it was to judge people based on their skin tones — one thing I learned only upon arriving in the U.S. Well, definitely need to unlearn this bullshit immediately. Yet at the same time, I was reflecting on whether it was because I have been reading much indigenous peoples’ poetry lately that I was able to pick up all these tiny signals at that Happy Lemon. Maybe. These are the things that I should focus on learning more about.

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