What Are You?

By: Josh Gelua

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally intended to be read out loud with emphasis and emotion. Slam poetry is a means by which to express passions, fears, and world issues among many other topics.

“So… what are you?”

He asked as he stared at me with a strange look on his face.

“What are you?”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“You know what I mean… what are you?”

“What are you asking? I’m Canadian, and I-“

“No, no, I mean what are you really? You know, are you Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino, Nepali, Indian, Mongolian, Singaporean, Laotian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Polynesian, Micronesian, so- just what type of Asian are you?”

And being associated with a few of those, it was hard to say the exact category I had belonged to.

And it’s a shame… because categorizing human beings into different groups and sub-groups has never had a positive outcome. Right?

Because the only reason why you would ask, “What are you” is because you’re not interested in WHO I am and instead just want a cheat sheet of my personality.

As if the colour of my skin or the slant in my eyes somehow affect who I am inside.

But I’m not a test, and you don’t need to know all the answers.

You learn on the job, and if I’m not worth discovering for yourself then what is the point of even trying?

Because stereotypes associated with what I am, allows you to paint my already written slate with your brush of assumption.

And don’t get me wrong, graffiti is art, but tagging is vandalism.

Tagging is disgusting, a crime, a sin against art. And you’re painting my canvas bright red with your paint can.

Don’t you know, as if the pool of blood spilled wasn’t enough.

I was never drowning, because the bodies of my ancestors lift my feet to let my head above for me to breathe.

Countless victims of discrimination and elimination all because of what they were, and not who.

In world war two, nazi Germany asked the same question. What are you? Gay, gypsy, or jew?

PHEW goes the bullets or the showers heads as they turn to cleanse what they are.

Imperial Japan asking the same question. What are you? Chinese, Korean, or new?

SLICE as the bayonets decapitate, rape the women and slaughter the children, to cleanse the land of dirty blood.

This is only 75 years after, and NOTHING has changed.

Hutus and Tutsi, Bosnians and Bosniaks, Sunni and Shia.

Even today, being of multiple backgrounds my own family members judge me for not having pure blood.

But why would you want pure blood in a society that celebrates imperfections, nobody is pure, nobody is perfect.


You’re being side tracked, I’ve only asked you a simple question just answer, everyone else does.”

But how can I answer, my answer isn’t clear. In a hundred years’ time that answer will be “I’m 1/16th german, 1/16th irish, I’m 1/16th chinese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Russian, French, Portuguese, Italian, Somali, Nigerian, Indian, Mexican, Jamaican, American, and Metis.”

My myriad of ethnicity should be irrelevant because in the end we will all be the same shade of brown.

We’ll all eventually run out of things to fight about.

First race, then religion, then wealth, then power. But we will never see that day if people like you keep asking that same question that separates you from me, her and him, us and them.

So to answer your question, you really want to know what I am?


What are you?