I Feel Asian Today

Jihyeon (Janel) Lee, 1st Place
7th Grade

To be Asian. To feel Asian. I’ve always questioned what these things were. When I was little and growing up in America, I took no notice of race and simply did what I felt was right. I didn’t think I was different from other little boys and girls of different ethnicities. Then things started to change, and there came a clear line of separation between Asians and other races. I was expected to do things other Asian girls did and be just like them. People at school didn’t take me for who I was or what I could do and didn’t even try to get to know me. I was simply “that Asian girl,” a term that was used by people of other races. It would be undoubtedly responded to with “Which one?” Was it wrong to be an Asian in America?

People treated me like the meatballs in spaghetti. Once a meatball, always a meatball. They seemed to all look the same so they treated me the same and expected to be the same. What if the meatball’s heart was to roll around and run away from utensils instead of staying still and getting eaten? If it did so, wouldn’t it be considered abnormal and be considered strange by the rest of the spaghetti?

I was a victim of racism and perhaps something called “expectism,” where there were rules and restrictions in which I was supposed to meet. If I didn’t do what I was supposedly “expected” to, instead of what I truly felt, there was no way to avoid questioning eyes from others. Because of these staring faces, I couldn’t help but let a quiet side wash over me. When doing projects I couldn’t help but let a burst of noise that had been kept quiet explode in my group, which caused dislike and fluttered around debris talk like “Are you ok? Wow, you’re not quiet like her,” and “You’re not like other Asians I know.” I wanted to say something for my group to the class. I actually wanted to answer my teachers’ questions. I did want to deliver my essay to the class. I wanted to do what I felt was right.

One of the things I didn’t let get influenced by racism was lacrosse. Of course, most of the people on my team were white, but they treated me fairly. However, I was still slightly scared by what they could comment about my personality at any moment and was shy in the usually forceful sport. Then at a lacrosse game, I saw a dark-haired girl playing lacrosse, the only meatball in the sea of spaghetti. She was amazing; she was so fast and aggressive that I caught myself thinking “she can’t be Asian.” Not only was her physical ability marvelous, but she didn’t let the fact that people of other races had to be passed get in her way. She was comfortable at tackling her opponents, whether they were white, black, yellow or red. The goggles came off her face and indeed, she was Asian. Her smile was bright as sunshine and though it seemed she didn’t have many friends in the league, perhaps because she was different to others of her race, she didn’t let that stop her from doing what she loved and playing lacrosse. My teammates, also mostly white girls, were a little dazed by her talent.

From that day on, I wanted to be like the dark-haired lacrosse girl. I found that being Asian was not something that made you who you are. “Asian” is but a name given to our kind, and through it, you cannot expect what that person will be like. Even I was finding myself being surprised when people were different from others of their race. We’re all different and should do what we feel is right, like participating in class even if you are a little shy or helping out someone even though they aren’t the same race as you.

Being Asian isn’t something you wake up and decide to be. There is no assembly line that makes the meatballs all the same. There’s no chosen path of being Asian and only you can decide what kind of person you want to be. Today, I don’t let people at school or in public expect me to be what they think, but do what I want to do and choose what I want to be. I’m no longer the predicted quiet girl that doesn’t get out a lot, but now strive to take advantage of a good education, try to get to know new people and love outrunning my opponents in a lacrosse game.