Images courtesy of Ashley Jimenez
Six Things You Will Learn About Being American-Born Chinese
by Rona Wang
When you are seven and the kids at school pull
up the outer corners of their eyes, call you chink or gook,
you will not get it. You will not understand why
they sneer at your lunches and your clothes and your punctured speech.
At eight your favorite after-school television cartoon
will feature a Mandarin-speaking character but
the voice-actor only speaks gibberish,
with the subtitle “Speaking Chinese” in bold underneath,
as if that’s good enough to fool you. You learn this
is how your language is perceived: a string of nonsense.
You are nine and your mother still stumbles over vowels,
cannot spit out her words without dipping them first in foreign tones,
and you are embarrassed.
Don’t be. Be proud of the courage it took
for her to cross an ocean into a foreign land
which told her she didn’t belong, which told her to go home.
Be proud of the tenacity it took to survive
the winters of food stamps and one-room apartments for three,
days of clipping coupons and sifting through Goodwill racks,
all for the American Dream.
In middle school, you will rebel against the stereotypes
that seem to hold you hostage. You will quit the piano,
sweep away your love for math and science,
bring home report cards with C’s. Model minority, pfft,
that’s a good one.
You will hate the color of your skin, the heavy clunk
of your last name, the food your parents cook,
and you will keep wishing to be less–
less of an outsider, less of a string of expectations you fail to meet,
less, less, less.
But here is the thing:
It is impossible to extinguish
the burning flame that is your ancestors’ home.
You will find yourself loving China–
the constant buzz of Beijing streets,
the proper way to haggle at the markets, echoing
temples that sing of yesterday, flecked city smoke
and salt and light.
A nation more than what you have been told,
more than rice paddies and cheap knockoffs and swollen crowds.
It is something breathing and bright.
Your heritage is more
than an exotic enigma.
It is more than Yellow Fever,
it is more than studious Ivy-League-bound kids with tiger parents,
it is more than pork soup dumplings
and a language that sounds like pots and pans and
it is more than everything you were scared of.
ABOUT RONA: Rona Wang is a seventeen-year-old high school senior from Portland, OR. She has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Sierra Nevada Review, and National Poetry Quarterly. Currently, she serves as a poetry reader for The Blueshift Journal, a youth poet ambassador for her city, and editor for her school magazine. Her writing can be found in The Best Teen Writing of 2014, The Sierra Nevada Review, Canvas Literary Magazine, and other publications. When not writing, she’s working out a math problem or getting lost in downtown. She blogs about studying and the college admissions process at chasingcollegedreams.tumblr.com.