By Katie Hinh, Guest Columnist

On Nov. 8, like many other Americans I went to the polls to cast a vote. This was my first presidential election and I was excited — I was finally going to have a say in an election (I mean, not really, but if we leave out certain bureaucratic elements it would have mattered).

So I woke up early and made my way down to Talawanda High School with my October utility bill in hand and patiently waited my turn. When I finally got up to the desk I told them my name and presented my utility bill to the scrutiny of the two men to whom I had been directed.

I expected to simply move onto the next step of the process, but while scrutinizing the screen that was in front of them, one of the men demanded my driver’s license.

I was a bit perplexed at that point, as I had looked up Ohio voter identification and it said that a current utility bill was enough identification to vote. So, I told them that I was voting in Ohio because of school but my license was still from Indiana, which is where I am originally from. He didn’t care. He said nothing, just kept his hand outstretched and wasn’t satisfied until he was holding it in his hand and examining it.

While he was examining it, his partner at the screen held my utility bill and decided that this was the correct time to conversationally say my last name aloud and ask me “What ethnicity is that? I’ve always wondered.”

No, you haven’t “always wondered.” I doubt you had even heard it until I walked and said it for you. Hinh is not a common name. To this day, I have never met another person with my last name that wasn’t related to me. So, unless he knew some secret Hinh’s living out in the woods (who I would love to meet), then I don’t think he had ever seen it before.

But you want to ask me about it, at 7:45 am on election day, while I am just trying to vote?

I notice that the people behind me are already at the machines voting. I see other people standing beside me getting their ballots to vote and I am stunned. I am humiliated and shocked and I am very tired, so I answer him, “I am Vietnamese and Chinese.”

He reacts with mild interest and shock. I don’t mention that I am half white, because I know that it doesn’t matter to him.

After that question they both agree that I am who I say I am, and they hand me back my bill, my license and finally hand me my damn electronic ballot. I vote and continue on with my day.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this incident. I was embarrassed by it, and tried to brush it off. Then it occurred to me: why do I have to brush it off? Who else got treated that way? Who else was hounded for a license and then had to share their ethnicity in front of numerous strangers? Not to mention that these two men knew where I lived and that I attend Miami.

And you know what? I don’t care if you are legitimately curious about my last name. I don’t care if you have a ton of friends with the last name Hinh. I don’t care if you want to open your mind and be “more accepting.” I don’t care about the reason you decide to ask the question. Just know this: You don’t fucking ask a stranger that. 

Why do you need to know? We don’t know each other, and we won’t see each other again. It’s personal. It’s rude. It is humiliating.  I have had it happen at various stores and restaurants but this was a step further. This was at a government institution. This was someone whom the government had allowed to represent them.

And this told me that defining my race was more important to my citizenship than any other factor that I had presented to them.

hinhkh@miamioh.edu

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