Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'Odar' and others: Have you ever been mistaken for an outsider?

Photo by mathew_ramsey/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A post last week explored a term that exists, in some version or another, in many cultures: How we describe an outsider, one who doesn't belong to our own ethnic group.

For Armenians, this term is odar. The word came up last week at KPCC during a public talk at the station's Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, where I moderated a panel on interracial and interethnic relationships. One of the panelists, an Armenian American married to a Korean American, used the term when telling the story of how the couple at first faced resistance from his mother, who wanted him to marry within his own culture.

As a follow-up to the live discussion, Multi-American contributor Lory Tatoulian wrote a piece last Friday with an extended definition of odar, which she described as a term that is "not a bad four-letter word, and doesn’t connote racism or prejudice; rather it’s just a tool for parents to classify who you should and shouldn’t date."

But such a term can still sound exclusionary to those on the receiving end, as one reader pointed out in the comments, especially when they understand what's being said about them because they're not really outsiders after all. James wrote:

I'm half white and half Armenian, but mostly look white.

I've been on the receiving end of being called an odar by Armenians who were unaware of my background and I can tell you that, even though it's not *meant* to be a word to connote racism or prejudice, it sure can feel like that at times.

Which opens up a box of worms that I'd like to dig into, with help from readers. As we know, within every ethnic diaspora there are uncountable differences in shades and features. Latinos, for example, are expected to look a certain way in Southern California (mestizo of Spanish and indigenous descent), and another way in places like New York or Florida (anywhere between white and black). Filipinos might be taken for either Latinos or Asians. The list goes on.

Then there are those of mixed heritage, like James, adding another wrinkle to who looks "ethnic" and who doesn't - and for that matter, who looks like they belong, and who doesn't.

Have you ever had an experience where you've been misidentified as an outsider? Heard people talk about you as one in your own native language? What did it feel like? How did you respond, if you did? Did they think you were too light, too dark, or anything else?

Please elaborate below, and I'll share your stories.