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16th Summer This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     “Finish your food or your husband’s face will look like it!” scolded my mother in her accented English, as she pointed her slender finger at the scattered white rice in my small bowl. I shuddered at the thought and picked off every grain with my bamboo chopsticks as my imagination created a picture of a man with rice permanently affixed to his face. It was an everyday routine to hear these Chinese superstitions, including the one that suggested the size of my nostrils would decide whether I was destined to be wealthy.

Growing up as an American-born Chinese, I never fully understood the depth or heart of my culture. From getting Chinese New Year red envelopes full of money to watching Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu movies, I had the typical American perspective of life in East Asia.

During my early years, I was sheltered in a mostly white private school. I felt awkward as one of the only ones in my class of 30 girls who had black hair. Struggling with never fitting in, the seven-year-old me picked out the Asian features of my face, wishing my black hair to turn blond and my brown eyes to turn blue.

Instead of embracing my heritage, I threw away the pride of being Chinese starting with my words. I stubbornly

refused to speak my parents’ native tongue, thinking that I would be a certified American if I spoke only English.

It wasn’t until my sixteenth summer that I discovered where I really belonged. My mom suggested I go to Taiwan to visit relatives and improve my Chinese. I resentfully agreed and endured the 16 long hours of flying 3,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

Brooding over the fact that the humidity would ruin my hair and my friends were on better vacations in Hawaii or New York, I couldn’t bring myself to consider Taiwan a worthwhile experience. However, after setting foot on the island, I gradually grew to love the scents and flavors of the food, the buzz of the passing mopeds, the hot wind blowing as the subways zoomed past, and the sights of the illuminated skyscrapers and the neighboring temples. Fascinated by the city life and remarkable culture, I could visualize myself walking through the busy streets as one of them, these people who share my heritage and language.

Now, I sometimes stop by my mom’s room and ask her about my future. As her eyes dart from my hairline to my eyebrows, she looks at my entire face and says in Chinese, “You will be very, very rich!” And I think to myself, Yes, very rich ... in culture.


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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