Young Writers Project: 'Casual Racism With A Side Of Language-Based Angst'

Oct 6, 2017

I was sitting among tiny, green blades of grass,
listening to a chaotic symphony
of loudspeakers
and bubbling voices.

I was sitting under a rosy sky
with golden light,
carefully separating the fluffy cotton clouds.

My twisted fingers picked at the green
and tore it apart,
watching its string split
and fall under my harsh grip.

I heard you.
I heard you speak in your best worst English.
I heard you.

I was right there.
I was right there when I heard you speak in your best worst English.
I was right there.

I know you didn't think much at the time
but years of insults
flooded back to me in that instant.
I wish they came presented on a silver platter
labeled in neat cursive
so I could pick how to remember
and how to frame being "Chinese."

I can't.

I frame Chinese as an insult
against my olive skin,
against my eyes,
against my eight-year-old self's inability to say the letter "r,"
against my five-year-old self's love for pandas,
against my sixteen-year-old self's appreciation for Chinese culture.

I frame my Chinese as an insult
because people asked me how I can see,
because people think my employers are my parents,
because people think I'm "too aggressive,"
because people think I'm "too white."

I frame my Chinese as an insult
because saying "Hello" in Mandarin
feels like trying to say "mirror" in the fourth grade
while people coaxed my mouth to form a proper "r" all over again,
because saying "How are you?" in Mandarin
feels like evenings before dinner working on saying my "r's" and crying,
because saying "You're welcome," in Mandarin
feels like crying in front of my seventh-grade teachers
over my vandalized homework and binder.

I was there when you boiled my culture down
to a combination dinner of General Tso's chicken,
pork fried rice,
and an egg roll,
with a side of "broken" English
and extra fortune cookies.

I was there when you dealt one of many blows
with a dull axe
to my long forgotten family tree.

I felt every thwack
starting at my bruised hip bones
and reverberating to my palpitating heart.

The Young Writers Project provides VPR's audience another avenue to hear and read selections and see visual art and photography from Vermont's young writers and artists. The project is a collaboration organized by Susan Reid at the Young Writers Project. The thoughts and ideas expressed here are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of Vermont Public Radio.