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Misfit This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By , Birmingham, AL

I am a Chinese-American, and proud
of it. However, there was a time
when all I wanted was to be considered
“American.” Born to two Chinese
immigrants, I was nicknamed “Sunshine”
by my parents because I was
always smiling. I can still recall joyful
moments devouring watermelon in the
summer and playing in the park. That
bliss was short-lived though.
When I was three, my parents made
a decision that would totally change my
childhood. They announced that we were
moving to a town in the deep South.
This town was known for its incredible
wealth, materialism, and a racial makeup
that was 98 percent white.
My parents signed me up for preschool
in a K-12 private school close to
where they worked. Here, a boy I’ll call
“Brandon” and his friends mercilessly
bullied me – chanting “Chinese” words,
pulling their eyes to slits, and shoving
me when they had the chance; we were
four. There was one teacher in particular,
an elderly, white woman, who I
now notice had a strong bias against the
few Asians at the school. One day she
made me and the only other Asian kid
in our class pick up (with a paper towel)
and throw away feces from the floor of
the restroom that one of the older kids
thought made for a funny prank.
Every day, it felt like Brandon taught
me a new curse word. I would come
home and repeat these words. My dad
would get so angry that he would tell me
to fight the bullies, something I couldn’t
bring myself to do.
When the year ended, my parents
enrolled me in the public school, hoping
that it would be a better experience. At
first, it was. Although teachers would
occasionally treat me differently (sometimes
on purpose), I was able to make
friends. But come fourth grade, almost
magically, their color-blindness was
cured and, yet again, my race defined
me. I was picked last for every basketball
or football game, and not because
I was bad at sports. I was viewed as
“dirty,” merely because I wore the
same six shirts every week. I could
never ignore that I was the only nonwhite
kid in my grade, and neither
could my peers.
In fifth grade, whenever someone
passed gas, it became a running joke
for everyone to stare at me accusingly
and laugh. This sounds funny
until it happens to you. My teacher
wanted in on the fun too. One day,
someone across the room passed gas,
and she took out a can of Lysol and
sprayed it above my head.
I felt so humiliated, so hurt. What
had I done to deserve this? Was
it because my parents didn’t raise
me to be materialistic and need the
latest $120 Nikes? Was it because
they didn’t understand my situation?
Whatever the reason, I couldn’t
adapt, so I couldn’t survive. The
only thing that prevented suicidal
thoughts from turning into suicide
attempts was my family’s support, but at
times the shame felt like it was crushing
me.
Middle school was no different. If I
thought materialism was widespread in
elementary school, I was mistaken. In
middle school, if you didn’t have the
latest iPhone or wear the coolest brands,
you’d never survive the social system.
I, along with a few others,
claimed the lowest class.
Even with many new kids,
how was I supposed to associate
with those who came
up to me and asked “What
type of Asian are you?” The
dumb ones would make comments
like “Your people are
taking jobs away from us” or
“Ching chong, ling long, ting
tong” and walk off laughing. The clever
ones would offer me a dollar if I sat
next to them for a test or gave them the
answers to homework.
One year, I went to a summer camp,
and to my surprise, there were a couple
of Asians there. There they were, my
fellow people, who would accept me
for who I was. I got to know them,
and we got along at first,
but when they found out I
couldn’t speak Chinese, one
girl remarked, “You’re a fake
Chinese!” While they still
somewhat accepted me, I
became known as the “fake
Chinese.”
It was at this point that I
came to an epiphany: My goal
in life shouldn’t be to seek
others’ approval. If I couldn’t
fit in even with the people
who seemed the most like me,
why try? Yet, I still had hope
that true friends would come
into my life eventually.
It is only now, in high
school, that I can fully understand the
phenomenon of ignorance. People always
like to point out how you shouldn’t
care what others say or think about you,
but it isn’t that simple. I learned this
firsthand.
My days of self-pity are over. I don’t
blame Brandon, my teachers, or anyone
in my white community who wronged
me in the past with racist
jokes or acts. Rather, I thank
them, because they made me
stronger. And it is because
I’m strong that I’m able to
smile again.
You are who you are, and
no matter how hard you try
to please others, people are
going to judge and shun
you from ignorance. Now,
whenever someone at school makes a
joke about my race, I smile and laugh.
I don’t do this because I think they are
funny, but rather because I understand
ignorance. Ignorance will exist forever
and always. But as Eleanor Roosevelt
once said, “No one can make you feel
inferior without your consent,” and that’s
the bottom line.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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