“I am Yang Li,” I announced as I took my place between Emily and Cassandra on the stage of the 2007 Illinois American Coed Pageant. To me, it seemed that the audience looked a little bit closer and listened a little more intently as I enunciated my distinctive name and headed to my position. This name, both simple and unique, guarantees a lasting impression, wherever I go.
When I was small, my grandmother was my babysitter. She used to lead me around, taking me everywhere to help me gain exposure to the world. “YangYang,” my grandma would call out lovingly as I rejoiced with a group of kids at the playground. With pigtails, a milk mustache, and unbelievably uncoordinated clothing, I frolicked through my early years with blissful innocence. I lived with no worries and absolutely no fear. So eager to learn and explore, my hunger and thirst for knowledge became evident when I begged my grandmother to teach me about the world. “Xiao Da Ren,” she called out jokingly as she let out a huge sigh, noticing my persistence. As the “Little Adult” in the family, I certainly lived up to my nickname by posing many inquisitive statements.
After months of being referred to as “Xiao Da Ren,” I began to crave responsibility. “Kimberly,” the Pink Power Ranger’s name, I thought as a more appropriate name. At that time, I considered her to be the most influential and responsible individual in the world. So, from ages five to seven, I lived a double life: I was Kimberly at home and Yang at school. I had made up my mind. I wanted to be just as smart and skillful as Kimberly, the Pink Power Ranger. I longed for a fairytale love story and I yearned to be a heroine. Kimberly was an extremely talented individual who used sign language to translate for deaf students. She saved the day with a flick of her wrist and opened up channels of communication with a gesture of her hand. Like Kimberly, I craved comprehension of the world around me. I felt that with a whole new name, I could be an entirely new person, not just a little Asian girl, but rather a powerful power ranger-like hero.
I have been constantly morphing into a power ranger, going out of my way to help people reach their goals. I’ve learned that the term “Liu Yang” is coined for students who excel by going to great heights in order to achieve the highest level of education. This admirable maxim is something I hope to live up to. My parents had chosen to associate my name with high hopes for me to live with the desire to excel and to achieve excellence.
As the years passed, teachers continued to call out my name sheepishly at the start of each new school year, unsure of its pronunciation and significance. I guess it was the hesitation alive in the voices of the teachers and students, trying to wrap their mouths around my very Asian name, that left me hesitant about whether my name was acceptable or not. It took many years for me to understand my name and its importance.
Today, people still struggle to pronounce my name, whether it’s at school, or my job, or any place I go. However, this no long bothers me because I am confident that the “Xiao Da Ren” I once was has grown into a “Big Adult,” as well as into my name.