I was in the 3rd grade when I realized I was different. “Chinese, Japanese,” yelled the kids on the playground, pulling their eyes back to make slits. I stared at myself in the mirror that night, not sure if I liked what I saw. I wished that I had eyes that opened all the way, and white skin. I wished that I were more like everyone else. But over the years, I’ve found that I am empowered. That’s because I believe in being Asian.
It seems like yesterday that I took my first standardized test. I have now taken what seems like millions of them, and they all appear to have the same questions, however easy. This was where my peers and I discovered my remarkable affinity for test taking. “He’s just an Asian,” they’d say, seeing the scores. “He can block out all the wrong answers with those squinty eyes.”
Of course, there are things I can’t block out. I can still see the day when I nearly got beaten up in my mind’s eye. The kid was big, and probably destined to play football in the future. I was Asian, and at the time, I looked destined to play the part of hobbit in the Lord of the Rings. Naturally, I thought I’d end up squished or mutilated like the victims in Law and Order. I was shaking, a little damp. This was before puberty; the wetness was not from sweat. The other kid looked like he’d been through puberty three times. He was a gorilla– perhaps his mother mixed up his milk with steroids when he was a baby. The fist wound back, and my short life flashed before my squinty Asian eyes. “Don’t fight him! He’s Chinese!” Warned his cohort. “He’s probably a black belt like Jackie Chan.” Falling to my knees, I thanked my lucky stars and my lucky genes, happy to have survived another day.
There are other Asians that are masters of survival. I’ve watched a lot of martial arts movies, full of survivors. Jackie Chan. Bruce Lee. Jet Li. They were all Asian. I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and all the characters were able to fly. I tried it, but it really didn’t work too well. Recovering from the scrapes and bruises, I realized that I’m only half Chinese. I must be missing something crucial in that other half of my genome. I guess just looking like a full Asian doesn’t endow one with the power of flight. But looking like one does mean I’ll never have to go tanning.
Sometimes I still wish that I had blue eyes and blond hair. Sometimes I wish that I looked like everyone else and wasn’t so conspicuous. But those are just some times, and I’ve found that my differences empower and protect me. And I remember just how great the color of my skin is every time I walk past a tanning salon. I believe in being Asian.
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