I Come From Sardines
I believe in living a shameless life: to nibble on sardines and still feel indulged, to wear a size small and still feel big, to be cursed and still feel blessed.
For me as a child, the Asian diet was smothered with a bit of spice, textured with shiitake mushrooms, and seasoned with a pinch of embarrassment. After a novel pried open the issue of my culture’s food, I sat ashamed in back of my seventh grade class as my peers scrutinized me with their hostile eyes. To them I ate dogs. I have never eaten dogs, but I felt compelled to defend my race. I searched for pride and strength, but they abandoned me: I sizzled and shriveled in my classmates’ boiling stew of disgust.
There’s nothing more condescending and debilitating than shopping. Large, Extra Large, Extra Extra Large, Triple Extra Large, sorry we have no small. I stare at the busty mannequins and fellow customers who could fill a muscle tee and hopelessly wonder why my meager body can’t. I have friends who denounce the materialistic, metrosexual fad, but they can spite knowing they can fill one, and to me, finding a fad shirt that fits is a matter of acceptance and self-worth.
Clothes reject my manhood, graduation shopping tells me so. There’s nothing like celebrating the passage to manhood by shopping for men’s formal wear in the children’s section. A man’s waist is at least 30, and my 28 puts me in the isle with the seventh graders. And my shoe size is six. Unfortunately, men’s sizes start at eight. I can’t fill a man’s shoe, or his pants, or even the definition of a man for that matter.
I remember almost crashing into an SUV once, in my little, humble Toyota. As small as it already was, I still had to scoot the driver’s seat embarrassingly close to the steering wheel, and what I couldn’t make up for in size, I made up for in speed. Not a good idea in a parking lot. The woman stammered off her monstrous SUV and vandalized my car with profanity. My father, in the passenger seat, returned her words while I avoided her…until she said something more insulting than Triple Extra Large muscle tees. With annoying persistence, she contemptuously asked whether I was old enough to drive. My eyes flared, and I finally found the inner pride and strength to defend myself…
On rainy days I eat sardines in front of my Americanized cousins, sitting on the windowsill with one leg up, just as I did in my Filipino childhood. I crush the salted flesh of the fish and chew on its frail bones without a demoralized conscience. For most, strength comes in heroic deeds, but that’s for normal, tall people. When I find a small muscle polo shirt, I augustly hand the statuesque cashier my money, and smile as he looks down to me. “How are you doing today?” I no longer timidly renounce the question to suggest a hostile urgency, but instead reply “Great!” with pronouncement. I pack my own lunches to school: Egg rolls packed in Tupperware instead of Ziploc, and wrapped in Walmart plastic bags instead of brown paper bags. I’m not aesthetically tall or a dietary conformist, but living shameless in the contempt of shortness and abnormality, that’s where my strength comes in.
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