The Voice Issue 32: October 2017 - Page 30

Casual racism with a side of language-based angst

I was sitting among tiny, green blades of grass,

listening to a chaotic symphony

of loudspeakers

and bubbling voices.

I was sitting under a rosy sky

with golden light,

carefully separating the fluffy cotton clouds.

My twisted fingers picked at the green

and tore it apart,

watching its string split

and fall under my harsh grip.

I heard you.

I heard you speak in your best worst English.

I heard you.

I was right there.

I was right there when I heard you speak in your best worst English.

I was right there.

I know you didn't think much at the time

but years of insults

flooded back to me in that instant.

I wish they came presented on a silver platter

labeled in neat cursive

so I could pick how to remember

and how to frame being "Chinese".

I can't.

I frame Chinese as an insult

against my olive skin,

against my eyes,

against my eight-year-old self's inability to say the letter "r",

against my five-year-old self's love for pandas,

against my sixteen-year-old self's appreciation for Chinese culture.

I frame my Chinese as an insult

because people asked me how I can see,

because people think my employers are my parents,

because people think I'm "too aggressive",

because people think I'm "too white".

I frame my Chinese as an insult

because saying "Hello" in Mandarin

feels like trying to say "mirror" in the fourth grade

while people coaxed my mouth to form a proper r all over again,

because saying "How are you?" in Mandarin

feels like evenings before dinner working on saying my r's and crying,

because saying "You're welcome" in Mandarin

feels like crying in front of my seventh-grade teachers

over my vandalized homework and binder.

I was there when you boiled my culture down

to a combination dinner of General Tso's chicken,

pork fried rice,

and an egg roll,

with a side of "broken" English

and extra fortune cookies.

I was there when you dealt one of many blows

with a dull axe

to my long forgotten family tree.

I felt every thwack

starting at my bruised hip bones

and reverberating to my palpitating heart.