Americans don’t eat mooncakes. They don’t wear their hair in two buns or bring chopsticks to lunch – and they stare, wide-eyed, if you start to speak Taiwanese, before turning abruptly and mimicking you shrilly behind upturned palms.
Such are the brutal life lessons learned in the second grade.
The next day, I bought a hot pink shirt stamped with pale butterflies – one of the many fads circulating around my school. I wore it twice and began braiding my hair back instead.
So it goes.
I still have that shirt in the back of my closet.
Funny how nine years hasn’t taught me a single thing.
Before school –
I search for the coffee in my pantry, half-awake and suppressing yawns. As my hands land on the familiar red canister, I’m mildly disappointed to find that it’s full of green tea instead. I peer in blearily, hoping the contents can magically transform into something more. Instead, the dulled scent floats up to me, prodding at my senses.
So I shake the tea leaves into my cup and watch as they scramble to tell me of my future.
There are maybe four other Asians in my grade. They are all Korean and elegant, sweeping aside the rest of us as we watch. They sit up straight in the front of every class, armed with their violins and perfect transcripts. They smile as the world shimmers in pretty hues before them.
I sulk in the back of the room, trying to stay awake. I see the world in black and white, and am starting to think that I may be colorblind.
Top 5 Things I am Told in School:
- I really love Chinese food.
- God, you’re so lucky you were born smart.
- It must be so cool to have widescreen vision.
- Taiwan is the same thing as Thailand, right?
- Do you ever plan on getting your eyes cut?
I like my eyes, actually. So, no, I don’t.
After school –
I nap and study and eat rice out of a glass bowl using a silver fork.
On Saturday, I slip into the pristine mold of a debater – hair back and clothes pressed and a thin streak of eyeliner on my non-existent crease.
We lose and win and attempt to learn from our mistakes when all we really want to do is cry. I lose one event, and feel the heat creep down my cheeks, painting my ears red. Behind me, one spectator hisses to another: Just because she’s Asian doesn’t mean she’s that good, you know.
I win my second event and hear no whispers. Instead, the pulse of steady applause washes through the small room.
On Sundays, I go to Chinese School. It’s forty minutes away from my home, and I go there to teach a culture class to elementary school kids. When my friends ask me where I am, I tell them errands or helping out my parents.
I don’t tell them where I am because for a few hours on that one day, I can be with people who are like me – pieces of us scattered between separate cultures, threaded together by experience. It’s a comforting feeling, and as selfish as it is, it’s mine – a private section of who I am that I have stowed away.
And besides, I really like these kids.
Top 5 Things Kids Have Told Me:
- You have shiny things on your teeth.
- Teach me this. No, wait. Teach me that.
- I got it – I GOT IT!
- Wait, sorry – I got it a minute ago.
- I think I want to be like you someday. Like, help people learn how to do cool stuff.
I wonder how long it’ll take before the boy with the crooked smile begins to stop wanting to learn new pieces of himself. Maybe it’ll happen gradually, as he realizes nobody else at school brings moon cakes in a box. He’ll ask his mom to buy him ham and cheese so he can make a sandwich to eat at lunch instead, and hide the mooncakes in his cubby to eat when nobody’s around.
Or maybe it’ll never happen, and he’ll be one of the lucky ones.
Tiffany Wang is a junior at John H. Guyer High School, a school on the outskirts of Dallas, TX. She loves to experiment with all different stylistic forms of prose, and usually comes up with story ideas right before she falls asleep. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards, and has appeared in publications such as the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth magazine, Imagine. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her playing the piano, attending a debate tournament, or studying furiously for the SAT.