Life on the Edge

Vivienne Chen, 3rd Place
12th Grade

I live on the border, straddling the fence between two worlds. On one side, cheese-crusted burger bags gather with thrift store jeans, Dixie Chicks albums, and self- sewn skirts. On the other side, fine silk-collared dresses meet red paper envelopes, tapioca drinks and purple yam ice cream. On my kitchen shelf, ginger sits next to cheddar, and thin rice noodles rest alongside fettuccine, penne, and macaroni. I am what they call a “Twinkie,” “banana,” or “ABC.” I am American-Born Chinese.

I come from the world of first-generation Asian Americans, or rather, American Asians. I am a peculiar breed, a pariah to the mold of the traditional Chinese student. In the Post-Mao China that my parents left behind, a high-achieving child like me becomes a doctor, engineer, or computer programmer, not an author, activist, and humanitarian. They write algorithms, not poetry. They discuss Euclid or Stiglitz, not Kubrick and Kafka. They live in a world apart from mine, as the boundaries of my culture identity are constantly shifting, like plate tectonics below my feet.

I am a cultural Frankenstein, a girl without a color, a flag, an anthem. I campaign with gay rights activists in San Francisco and volunteer at elderly homes with Catholic nuns in Africa. I spend my weekends dancing with fake guns and swords, editing articles for the school paper, and testifying before a judge in Mock Trial. These are my communities, coalitions based on interests and ideology, rather than race and ethnicity. My Chinese culture, with its expectations of studious academics, struggles to accommodate my passions and my personality. I am a girl struck by inspiration and wanderlust, but even though I do not know where I am going, I know where I come from.

I come from plastic tablecloths, tablecloths covered in old grease and spit bones. I come from a fridge full of pork rinds, bok-choy, and left-over stir fry. I come from the broken words of Mandarin spoken around the house, from a broken family, but not a broken heart. I come from correcting people on the phrase “gun hay fat choy” and perfecting the tongue of “Chinglish.”

Above all, I come from paper. This paper knows every inch of me. Paper, worn with age. Paper, tattooed with my emotions. Paper, filled with my thoughts and observations. I come from this paper, and its words come from me. My words are my building blocks, pieces of a frame that construct a bridge of insight and understanding between my Asia and my America.

By growing up as an American Asian, I have learned to see the world through two different lenses. I examine the consequences of the One Child Policy in China, the excesses of American consumerism, and the philosophies of Adam Smith or Lao Tzu with a natural comprehension. I walk the line between my two nations. I live on the edge of both worlds, bringing the best from each. I stand astride the border between book smart and street smart, between tradition and innovation, between collectivism and individualism—between my inner East and West.