My parents raised me as a silent warrior.
When I walked through the double-glass doors of the schoolhouse on what would prove to be the first of many first days of a long, transformative journey, we were told not to speak. Armed with nothing more than a pre-K education haphazardly taken from Barney songs and the traditional sensibilities of my ancestors brought from the streets of Saigon on a boat journey across the Pacific, I was a vessel – a vessel in which my parents and their parents could pour their hopes and dreams into, for when they were young, their visions of a better future were forever marred by poverty, by warfare, by political greed and corruption.
In America, on my very first day of school, my parents saddled us with the belief that an American education and deference to authority could turn affordable housing into mansions, plates of rice and beans into feasts fit for a king, and the children of uneducated Chinese Vietnamese refugees into true Americans. So, I kept silent and I completed homework, essays, and science fair projects. But no matter how hard I wanted to believe my parents’ word as gospel, I learned that, in order to create my own path, I needed to find my voice and realize my own words and thoughts are my most powerful weapons.
My voice was forged from pencil against poster board, eraser shavings strewn across three-holed punched sheets, and shoebox dioramas charting the course of Christopher Columbus and the early beginnings of our universe. With the guidance of my teachers, the classroom became my sanctuary, where I could develop as a thinker, start to understand the world around me, and question in order to create my own paradigms for living. It was in these very classrooms where I learned that America was not black and white, that meritocracy only got one so far before our institutionalized, internalized fears and biases broke free from childhood ignorance and manifested themselves as schoolyard taunts and leers.
Unfortunately, to a bully, a silent warrior is nothing more than an easy target.
They sang ching chong and pulled at the corners of their eyes. They turned their noses at my packed lunches and asked if I ate dog. They disguised shoves as innocent playground horseplay while openly wondering if the only reason why I earned good grades was because I was Asian. In those moments, the difference between me and everyone else crystallized into the bitter taste that lingered on my tongue every night when I would wash down my dinner with a cup of tea. Shame overcame a desire to develop my voice and I retreated into silence.
I wrote this today for a scholarship essay that I almost forgot about… It’s more inspired than my writing as of late (can definitely attribute that fact to reading more these past few weeks) and it’s surprising how and when inspiration can just spurt out of you. Anyways, hope you like me showing this other side of myself. I didn’t like how I ended the essay for my scholarship, so I didn’t include that ending here. Maybe I will write a better ending someday.
Growing up, I have experienced my own share of bullying that was partially due to the fact that I was the only Asian immigrant in the class full of Mexican immigrants. I remembered that every interaction I had with someone was inevitably preceded by the question “do you know Jackie Chan” since that’s the only Asian thing these kids knew. Trying to fit in was not at all an option since I couldn’t speak Spanish and barely spoke English. I just accepted solitude as a fact of life. I think many of us probably shared similar experience, and it was beautifully captured in this story by @ro-mantik.