I was stabbed right into the heart!

When a racist strikes, it weakens you right at that moment of attack. You lose your guard and you think of right words to say. You don’t want to talk back in hopes that the racist will realize ‘her’ mistake, unring the bell and apologize. She never did!

Inside Cottonwood.

Cottonwood Coffee is the best coffee shop in Brookings, South Dakota. No wonder I kept coming back after I tasted and loved a serving of its coffee and enjoyed its customer service. Not to mention, the owners are very friendly to their customers. If I have to list the best coffee shops I have been into so far, in all my travels, I will include Cottonwood in it. That is how I love the place and their coffee concoctions.

For more than two years of getting my daily dose of caffeine from Cottonwood, never ever I had experienced being treated differently. Never. I made friends with most of the baristas. Some of them even concocted signature drinks just for me — mostly done with fun. While most of them treated me like one of their friends, there is one lady employee (no, a racist) whose treatment of me goes beyond barbaric. She labeled me “colored”.

Honestly, I really don’t mind being called “brown” or differently-colored, if done within the circle of friends. Friends do talk about race and differences in skin color once in a while. There are times that I discuss with my friends how I love my skin tone and how Filipinos sometimes use lotions and supplements to lighten their dark complexion. Most of these conversations with friends, who understand that I am different, end up with giggles. With them, I do not feel discriminated. With them, I feel accepted.

But what makes me furious is this lady barista who could not control her mouth. Here is the story:

My housemate/colleague and I are coffee-loving fellows. We make it a habit to visit Cottonwood, at least once a day, for his double-shot espresso and for my coffee mocha, which I always order. That day it was a little different. My colleague ordered a glass of chai and I had the coffee mocha, as usual. While waiting for our orders, we took a seat near the wall. Behind us was an elderly couple and in the table next to us, on my right, were two ladies, probably friends. Two tables in front of me was a guy.

It was a good afternoon. My friend and I were talking about work stuff when this racist lady/student/employee came with our coffee orders. She was holding the mugs just high enough for me to appreciate the coffee colors. As she was about to place the mugs on the table, I said “Oh thank you…so mocha is darker than chai.” And just out of nowhere, she mumbled “Just like your skin colors guys.” She mentioned that not in a funny way, nor in a whisper that only my friend and I could hear. She said her left-handed compliment loud enough to make the ladies seated on my right look at me. Then she swiftly left, like leaving an injured man she just ran over. Yes, it was likened to a hit-and-run incident.

It took me few seconds to absorb the words and cool myself off. Then I shouted at her (in a polite way), “That was a good example”. But I said those minus the smile.

My friend, who was also surprised of the lady’s behavior, commented in a whisper, right then and there, “She is racist.” It was my friend who labeled her as racist, and I could not agree more. She is racist!

She tried to tell me with her discriminating words that I ordered mocha because I am dark. My friend who’s white ordered the lighter-colored chai. WTF! The uncalled-for remarks really boiled my blood. Why use the coffee for skin comparison? Or why say those words in the first place? And why should she say those words in a situation where people could hear her?

Would it make a difference if she had said it to me personally? Maybe. Maybe I could have kept my silence. Maybe I could have forgiven her. Maybe I would have not even blogged about it. Because as I’ve said I do not mind being labeled as ‘brown’ if it’s just the two of us talking or if we talk about ‘colors’ in a group of friends. But it seems her senseless act of discrimination that time was pre-meditated. Those words were probably in her conscience all the time that needed to be slapped at me at a calculated time. She waited for that moment. Indeed she got her moment! I was embarrassed. Very embarrassed!

The following day, I went back to the coffee shop and there she was at the corner making some drinks. She did not look at me. I pretended that everything was fine. Each day that I saw her at Cottonwood after that incident, I showed a civil attitude of being pleasant and respectful, although inside of me I could still feel the tingling of the sharp spear she thrust at my chest.

I hate being discriminated. I hate racists. The words these people release are more dangerous than the worst plague – these people love to make you feel like a low-class human being.

I was discriminated by a group of teenagers when I was inside a fast-food restaurant in New York City about two years ago. They were looking at me, pretending to whisper some racist names and then laughed each time. I went out of the establishment without my food. I was new in the U.S. and I thought that the best way to not be in trouble is to go away. That night, in NY, I promised myself not be discriminated anymore.

If I will be discriminated because I talk differently, or my skin is not the same as every American, or my look is so Asian, I will fight back. I will not let any racist lower my self-confidence. Not anymore. This isn’t the time of oppression. This is the time to wrestle and to let the heartless racists know that Filipinos are humans and we are not toys that they can play with.

This blog is just the start. I will let everyone, every reader of all my blogs know that racism should never be tolerated. Time to separate the sheep from the goats!

I seldom go to Cottonwood Coffee this time around (and I am missing the place). If ever I need a dose of caffeine, I go the other branch, at the Bistro. Although my other barista friends are not there, I have to do it. No, it is not raising the white flag. It is being humane.

I may still visit Cottonwood (because I still believe it is the best coffee shop in Brookings; because the owners are very accommodating and friendly and never discriminating). I will be back in Cottonwood when this emotional torment lessens. Or maybe when that racist employee isn’t in-charge at the counter.

Is there a policy that protect customers from a discriminating barista? The management has to look into this because a chain is no stronger than its weakest link!

I miss the coffee shop. I miss my afternoon visits. I guess I will just have to wait, as time heals the wounds.

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