They say we’re domestic terrorists.1 History textbooks and historical fiction novels always describe it as “bombs raining down from the sky,” well, we rained out of our mothers like bombs, that’s why they say that their water breaks. Except we don’t explode right away. We plant ourselves into the metal of cities like Edison, New Jersey, and watch and wait for the right time. We read Because of Winn-Dixie in the second grade and ignore our white classmates when they make jokes about eating dogs.2 We learn to accept (read: not love) being different, eating congealed white rice with fried tomato and scrambled egg out of a shame-scratched thermos. After school, our mothers drive us to a hole-in-the-wall ballet studio where we are the only Asian students. We watch ourselves in the monitors they set up inside the studio, carefully studying how to point our feet, how to angle our arms, how to assimilate.3 Absorbing, observing, watching everything. In 8th grade, our teacher passes out copies of American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Even though we’ve read it before, and all of Yang’s other works, we’d never admit it. Instead, we turn up our noses and bemoan its inauthenticity, although most of us can’t even read the Chinese characters. Not like we know anything about being authentic. Sophomore year of high school is when “STOP ASIAN HATE” breaks out. We attend a rally run by a coalition of Asian high school students and liberal white women.4 Juliet Chen, sophomore, gives a speech on how we’ve been wronged. We clap.5 We pose for Instagram, caption our pictures with generic notes of gratitude. I drive real slow on the way home. I tell myself that this is the explosion I was engineered for. It’s not true. But the bomb feels so sweet, so lovely, so I let myself pretend that it is.
1: Nearly all reputable sources define “domestic terrorism” with the words dangerous and violent. It’s just a little ironic, knowing that we were always depicted as fragile, as quiet, as subservient. At our core, we are oxymoronic: they are scared of the violence that silence can hold.
2: Except, we’re in high school now, and we crack those same jokes to our white friends. They make those jokes, too, but only when they’re with us. Like it’s our dirty little secret. It’s confusing to think about, though. It doesn’t actually bother me if someone makes a joke about Asian people eating dogs. Isn’t humor supposed to poke fun? But what if I’m thinking about this all wrong? What if I’ve been conditioned to think that mildly racist humor is funny?
3: Nearly all of us drop out of ballet class at the end of middle school for a variety of different reasons: tuition is too expensive, the way that the men stare at your pink-tights-clad legs and the shape of your blurry body in the streetlights when you’re walking out of the studio is a peculiar pain, but it’s mostly because our parents say that the arts are useless.
4: Everyone looks exactly like how you would expect them to look.
5: But in the back of our minds, we are trying to think about what hate crimes we have experienced. We think about the playground crimes, where white kids smeared the edges of their eyelids with their fingers, where they said “Ching-chong” like a soundtrack from hell. We think about the bathroom crimes, where we are humiliated by the ubiquitous mean girls. In isolation, nothing is ever so bad. Everyone tells us to get over it. We can. But we’re dangerously close to detonation. One more misstep and we explode. Shrapnel everywhere.
Senna Xiang is a teen writer. Her work is published in Superfroot Magazine, Peach Magazine, and other lovely places.
One thought on “Footnotes on not being your foreigner ~ by Senna Xiang”
Comments are now closed.