Alana shared this essay about her Asian heritage at a student assembly for Middle School students at Wheeler's annual Middle School Unity & Diversity Day.
The Chinese Curse
It was 11:15am, the most chaotic time of the day-lunch time. Children spilled into the cafeteria, busting open doors. Panting heavily, I pushed and shoved my way out of the crowd before letting out a sigh of relief as I grabbed the first empty seat found. With hungry, fervent eyes, I unpacked my lunch, yanking off container covers in record speed.
Displayed in front of me was steaming Ji Shui Jiao (Chicken Dumplings), crisp sauteed bai chai (bokchoy), savory cha ye dan (green tea egg), and brisk ju hua cha (chrysanthemum tea). The heavenly aroma of my lunch engulfed my nostrils, causing a deep growl to escape my stomach. I was so stupified by the scent of my lunch that I almost didn’t notice the forty pairs of eyes gazing in my direction. With my chopsticks attached to a piece of green tea egg mid air, I suddenly heard a piercing female voice exclaim, “ Ewww! What’s that?! It looks gross!” Her question, as if a pebble caused a landslide of questions to tumble down towards me. “Why does it look like that?” “My skin looks like that after swimming!” “Why would you eat that?” My eyes grew in terror as my heart pounded heavily against my chest. I was an exhibit in a zoo, caged in with no escape, while suffocated by hundreds of famished reporters, hungry for answers.
The shriek of the school bell finally broke everyone’s attention as they rushed out to recess, completely forgetting the intense questioning moments ago. But I did not. I sat at the now deserted table, packing the untouched food back into my purple lunchbox, refusing to take a single bite no matter how much my stomach ached from the void I felt. I labeled this as the Chinese Curse.
I often questioned why, solely, I was condemned to this awful fate. Being the only Asian kid in my class of 90 students felt like a living nightmare in which I was the only performer in a freak show. Elementary students not only ridiculed what I ate, but mocked my presence by pulling at their eyes and speaking in "changlish."
Because of this, I could feel nothing but hatred towards my Chinese culture.
With it being a hindrance to my life, I decided to deny it by building a barrier, not only taller than the Empire State building, but tougher than the great wall, all in effort to keep my toxic asian culture from poisoning my American one-the key to belonging.
My mother was not thrilled with how I solved my “problem. With every effort that my parents made to bring Taiwan to America, I pulled away. It was a constant uphill battle with my parents- American versus Chinese. My parents, with undying hope and effort, fired continuous shots of chinese culture my way: reading me asian bedtime stories, playing taiwanese songs on road trips, and cooking me extravagant taiwanese meals. Being loyal to the american culture, I stood my ground refusing the deep gravitational pull of the asian culture that my parents were imposing. My wall remained steady and strong, without a single scratch.
When my parents brought me to Taiwan I boycotted Asian foods and cultural practices with fury only to find out that I wouldn’t be able to continue my way of life. I found myself in the midst of this celebration in a traditional xiao chi (small eats) shop where they served traditional taiwanese appetizers. Sitting on frigid, cheap, red plastic benches, we waited as the chef brought over platters of dishes that were completely foreign to me. Set on the table was pale white jelly fish head, coagulated pig’s blood, and the infamous stinky tofu.
My nose scrunched and my eyes watered by the mere scent of these appetizers-nothing you would find in America.
Gazing around, it came to my attention that everyone else, my parents included were diving into these dishes as if they haven’t eaten for days. Whole plates of stinky tofu would vanish within seconds. Although hesitant at first, I slowly lifted a dangling piece of jelly fish off the plate and into my mouth realizing that this was the only thing I would be eating all day that didn’t consist of cheddar pringles and apple juice. Never before had I experienced chinese food like this. Maybe it was the lack of food eaten all day or perhaps the feeling of belonging.
Whatever it was, I found myself continuously plucking pieces of jellyfish and stinky tofu off the plates while holding a skewer of coagulated pig’s blood in my free hand. The pig’s blood was warm and comforting like hot cocoa on a cold winter day by the fireplace. The rice was delicate yet powerful, the balance of seasoning was so exquisite that I let out a groan in pleasure after just one bite. Following up the pig’s blood, I vanquished the long feared stinky tofu. As it met my mouth, the pungent smell had become irrelevant as the ginger sauce that the tofu had soaked in combined with the tofu’s natural juice to cause an explosion of flavors in my mouth. Just when I believed that I had experienced the ultimate satisfaction, spice from the chili paste attacked every corner of my mouth before being mellowed by a piece of decadent pickled cabbage.
For the rest of the night I had allowed myself to embrace what was around me. A weight heavier than 100 cinder blocks was lifted off my shoulder. For once,I didn’t compact myself into a windowless box just so I could feel a sense of belonging. To two different cultures.
When heading back to America, my heart slowly sunk as I came to the realization that I was yet again encompassed by others whose heritage and appearance differed from my own. The wall that had collapsed when I was in Taiwan was quickly being rebuilt as if magnets returning to their rightful spot.
I wasn’t completely Chinese and I wasn’t completely American, but like the stinky tofu two completely different elements -the tofu and condiments would come together to form a magical whole. For once in my life, I sat around the living with room with my 10 cousins and numerous aunts and uncles, sipping on homemade bubble tea, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, while gnawing on savory pieces of chicken feet.