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Good Enough for Me MAG
I’m late, I’m late. I was supposed to meet John at City Hall 30 minutes ago. Why didn’t I plan for such a crowd on New Year’s?
“Hey, you CHINK!”
Up the stairs. Don’t step on my feet, please. Only one more subway ride to get there. I hope John’s still waiting.
“CHINK! I’m talking to you, YOU CHINK!”
… just about to step into the subway …
Made it. Good.
* * *
It wasn’t until a week later, walking to math class with John, when I realized that I was the “Chink” people in the subway were referring to. I told John, but his puzzled face just looked at me as though my story made no sense. I’m Chinese. It wasn’t the first time the thought had entered my mind. Every day I look in the mirror and notice that I am still Chinese, just like yesterday, and just like every day before, but sometimes it becomes more than just a glance in the miror, like it did that New Year’s.
I've grown up a lot since my blissful childhood which protected me from racism. In middle school, being Chinese was all I thought about. I'm Chinese. I'm Chinese. Hey! I am Chinese. What does this mean to me? At one time, it meant a lot but in a way of which I was embarrassed. Now I value my culture, and I accept growing up in America with parents who aren’t American.
I was the first person in my family to be born in the United States. I remember reflecting on my birthplace with my mother around the age of nine, She said to me, “Being the first to be born in this country means nothing. Why not be the first to attend an Ivy League college? Now that is important."
My family lived in Boston for the first three years of my fife. I went to a Montessori school where the class was taught to read, to fold toilet paper over twice to get maximum usage with minimum waste, and to say, "No, thank you anyway" if we didn't want a piece of celery stalk that Molly brought to share. Nikki was my best friend. I had a crush on Mark. Being a "Chink" in America was not with me then.
When we moved to the suburbs and I entered public school at five, things began to change. I missed Black Nikki. White Kevin replaced White Mark as the boy of my dreams. And I noticed I was the only Chinese person in my class.
My best friend was Sarah. I remember finding her older sister's cigarettes and unwrapping them to make a collage of the tobacco leaves. I remember dressing up as Cinderella’s ugly stepsister for Halloween. I remember having a funeral – coffin, flowers, and all – for our pet bee, Buzzy, whom we had captured a week before. I remember sharing Sarah's pain when her parents got divorced. But it is Sarah's grandmother from Ohio whom I remember most clearly. She often sent Sarah these delicious, flawless, fat lemon cookies Sarah always shared with me. One time her grandmother came to visit.
"My grandmother doesn’t like you," Sarah said casually.
"What do you mean?" l didn't understand. I had never met her grandmother. Why wouldn't she like me?
"I mean, she told me Chinese people are filthy, selfish, and rude and she says that she would never let you into her house. But don't worry. Mom and Dad still love you."
"Oh," I replied, glad that Sarah's mother loved me.
In middle school, being Chinese became even more apparent and damaging. I was still the only Chinese person in my grade, and allowed my race to isolate me.
At this age, I loved getting my picture taken with friends in the mall and put them together in a photo album.
Oh, look at Sarah's eyes – they're so big and round. And Amy's blonde hair. I wish my skin was pale like Kelly’s. Cathy’s green eyes are so pretty.
I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be white. I spent middle school wishing I was like everyone around me. I never went out with friends because I was afraid to ask my parents for permission. "You don't understand. It's a Chinese thing," I would always say. I made being Chinese my life, my everlasting problem. I cried myself to sleep every night. My teachers showed concern. "You don't understand. It's a Chinese thing." My friends stopped asking me out. "You don't understand. It's a Chinese thing." I hid from my "Chinese thing" and I hid from my life.
Everything began slipping away, and all I could do was cry. I felt even more alone in such a large school.
My mother gave me a copy of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. I cast it aside. A year later, out of boredom, I read it. Then I read it again. And again. It didn’t fill me with overwhelming relief, but it helped. Thanks, Amy. Thanks, Mom. I couldn't believe the similarities between my life and those in the novel. It wasn't just my mother who placed a mirror facing out my windowsill to reflect away “bad things” when I had the flu. It wasn’t just my mother who called me a ghoul when my hair looked wild and unbrushed. I finally understood that being Chinese is something that is part of who I am. My best friend is overweight; Oscar Wilde was gay; Santa Claus is left-handed, and I am Chinese. I am a person, I am a human being, just like everyone around me.
Last October, my boyfriend, who happens to be white, told me about his mother’s conversation with a neighbor.
“My son is seeing a Chinese girl right now.”
“Oh, really? That’s nice. They’re usually a nice group of people.”
But it’s no longer only my problem. Racism, unfortunately, is everyone’s problem, no matter which end or side you’re on, and I know that it still exists. Racism hurt me growing up, but it won't hurt me anymore. Through regular comments of "Are you two sisters? You look alike and "You know you did well on the math test. All Chinese people are good at math," I’ve gone from accepting to correcting. I do not resent people for their ignorance – I pity them for having such funny minds. I am not sorry for being Chinese, but for being so easily influenced. I had a hard time setting my race aside to find myself. But now I have seen a part of my true self, and being Chinese is a part of that part. I am ready and willing to move ahead in search of the other parts. Where do I fit in? I fit in here, in my own warm spot, in this big world with everyone else, and that’s good enough for me.