“Where are you from? What are you?” people would ask.
“We’re from America. We’re American,” we’d answer.
(Insert confused look here as they try to figure out why we’re brown and American.) “Oh, then what state are you from?”
“We’re from state of New Mexico,” we’d answer, knowing what would follow next.
“Oh, so you’re Mexican! Do you speak Spanish?” they’d ask with a look of realization that comes over their face.
“No, we’re not Mexican.”
(Insert another confused look.) “Oh, well then what is your ethnicity?”
“We’re индеец (een-dye-ets),”we’d respond, mispronouncing the Russian word for Native American because there is only a one vowel difference between this word and the word for a person from India, индиец (een-dee-ets).
“Oh, so you’re not from America. You’re from India. That’s ‘Indian,’ right?” they’d ask, hoping the confusion would end.
“No, we’re not from India. We’re from America,” but before we could finish they’d continue.
“But your parents are from India, right? Your ancestors are from India, even though you’re American,” they’d respond, happy to finally know what we are.
“No, our families aren’t from India. We’re…” at this point Derrick would put two fingers behind his head to imitate feathers, and his hand over his mouth to imitate a war cry.
“OH! Индеец! Chingochkook!” they’d say, referencing James Fennimore Cooper’s book The Last of the Mohicans, which many people here have read. “You’re family!”
With a small bit of variation this dialog occurred every time we would meet someone new. Finally, after many times of making mistakes between the words индиец and индеец and every other variation with incorrect pronunciation, we’re able to settle the confusion in half the time (and with less embarrassment on Derrick’s behalf).