Yes, This is my Real Laugh

It was The Onion that so wisely quipped in one of their famous headlines: "Nation's Slicked-Back-Hair Men Rally Against Negative Hollywood Portrayal." Though satire, the simple truth is that Hollywood does play with our perceptions of what is evil. It's fair to say that I've never seen a good guy in a Hollywood movie who laughs like me. 

It was in 6th grade that I first began to realize that I was born for a life of meeting people who would make prejudicial assumptions about me. I was in Mr. Torres' classroom, and it was career day. We had a nice, liberal-minded white lady passionately talking about her work with drug addicts. As your typical ADHD 11-year-old, I was half-daydreaming, half-concentrating when the nice woman said, "some babies are born addicted to crack."

The transition from daydreaming to hearing her talk about crack-addicted babies was all I needed to start laughing. I laughed -- loudly -- and, yes, in a very "evil" way. 
"I don't think babies being born addicted to crack is funny," she angrily snapped back, making me laugh even more maniacally. Mr. Torres finally came around to intervening: "José, deja de reirte por favor." Damn, he busted out the Spanish; that's when I knew it was something serious.

My laugh before puberty was much more subdued and high-pitched that it currently is. It was in 6th grade when it started going the cartoon villain route. I think it's pretty fair to say that if I had been attending school in a suburb full of sheltered individuals instead of in the Bronx, people would have been extremely afraid of me. Nevermind that I usually daydream about funny things. 

When I daydream I sometimes smirk, and I often wake up in hilarious, unpredictable situations. It was when I got to Yale and started living around people too afraid to venture two blocks from where they live, that I began to understand the power of my laugh. 

I was at some frat party with my Taiwanese suitemate when a British girl from California started talking about the war in Iraq and all the suffering and dead. I was daydreaming, smiling, when she angrily interrupted me: "Why are you smiling at dead Iraqis!?"

Not only had she in an angry tone woken me from my daydream, but she had also put me in the spot, making me look evil. I hate being put on the spot, especially by an angry person I don't know. To say that it took everything in me not to smash my bottle across her pretty, freckled face would be an understatement. You can take the man out of the South Bronx, but that night I was forced to prove that you can also take the South Bronx out of the man. 

Some people are more discreet and polite when they make presumptions about your face. During my freshman year Environmental Economics 117 class, the professor  -- a newly-arrived Greek who always seemed to sweat profusely and nervously -- told me after class, over a month into the semester, "excuse me, you're always smiling and it keeps me from concentrating."

I was thereafter too nervous to attend the class, and decided to drop it before it appeared in my transcript.  At the time, I had no idea I was ADHD and couldn't even begin to deal with the complexity of the situation that the professor had placed me in.

I've since come to learn that making presumptions about people's emotions based on learned cultural facial expressions is tantamount to discrimination. In Cambodia, people laugh and smile in the face of tragedy. Tell a person in Cambodia that your father just died, and the nervousness of the situation will likely make them laugh. Friending Cambodian people has helped me dealt with the rage that used to overcome me when someone made prejudicial assumptions about my emotions. 

However, I'm certain that somewhere out there, some kid is being angrily placed on the spot for daydreaming and laughing out of turn. Unlike me, however, that kid may not be living in a place like the Bronx, and he is slowly becoming angrier and angrier because the adults don't understand him.