It’s almost my turn. The teacher looks down at his clipboard.
“Let’s see, hmm, The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang?”
I stand up calmly and walk to the front of the room, clutching the blood red-colored book in a hand. A pause of a few seconds elapses before I begin. My voice starts confidently with the background of the book. This out of the way, I proceed to the gory details of the killing, looting, raping, and arson by the Japanese soldiers in the ancient city of Nanking, China, all less than a century ago. I speak of what I know, what the book and what my heritage have taught me. I press these words onto my audience: horrors upon horrors yet truths upon truths. I can’t point to a singular reason as to why I chose this piece for book report; the details are simply too gruesome. I guess it was my way of telling myself that I was able to stay true to my identity.
As I speak, I gauge the faces of my mostly-white audience. The girls look sympathetic, almost as if it were I who had endured the wrath of the Japanese. The guys sit back with arms crossed and listen in indifference; their book report choice is usually of a more-familiar historical event such as D-Day.
“It’s important to note that the author’s research into these atrocities most likely played a role in her clinical depression and later suicide,” I say with a subtle passion.
It doesn’t make a difference. Despite an attempt to stress this charged fact, I’m met with the same blank stare. They hear me; but they aren’t listening. “Don’t you see?” I yell in my head, “Don’t you understand?!” They sit there before me unwilling to make the connection between these horrors procured from the depths of Hell and its effect on the vulnerable, innocent mind of an ordinary observer such as Iris Chang.
Then and there, I lose faith. Here, my counterparts, my peers - a rather arrogant bunch - stare at me with a disinterested look on their face. They pay their respects by watching me, but, regardless, this obscure and distant historical event offers no value to their lives, and that is final. It’s rather simple. Once the bell rings, my book report and the amount of conviction I convey will all slowly, but surely, dissipate into the forgotten past. Friday night will be on the minds of many. For others, it’s the continual pursuit of a perfect grade point average and other means of pursuing a perfect college application. Unburdened hearts will awaken each and every day without room to sincerely regard the hundreds of thousands and even millions of victims of the present and the past. “Who’s left to preserve the legacies of these victims?” I find myself constantly asking. I guess, it’s me. I guess, it’s those who like myself have been plagued by the emotional pain of discovering the darkest contents of humanity’s Hell. No tears can describe such a pain. As much as I want to live that ideal high school life, I know I could never truly adopt such a false identity.
I come to a close. By now, the bell is set to ring and everyone is getting ready to go to their next class. As I walk back to my desk, my peers lightly applaud out of a superficial respect. Walking back to my desk, I feel their eyes piercing into my being with a curious intensity. I’m a spectacle. “No wonder,” they probably tell themselves, “he’s Asian.” In the present and the future, I’ll be handed the label of “that Chinese kid” who, for some reason, chose this horrifying book and who, for some reason, remains willingly bound to his “Asian-ness.” There in that room and now as I reflect, I am truly the elephant in the room.