DIFFERENCE. Jackie Tran Opens Up About Her Asian Identity.

ARTICLE BY JACKIE TRAN

What is your biggest insecurity? Your body? Your personality? Your past? Everyone is trying to hide something from others, even the people they care about the most. Everyone feels so alone because they think they’re the only one. And if you complained about it or told someone close, you’d think they’re judging you. Sometimes you can’t even fix your insecurity. My biggest insecurity was my race. 

My whole life, I lived in a small suburban town in Connecticut, USA. This town is boring. Connecticut is boring in general. The only thing to do here was go to the small two-story mall. This town also houses 20,000 people. Most of which were white adults waiting to retire. My family always stood out. We were the quiet Asians up the hill. 

Elementary school was a vivid memory. The smell of crayons and paint covered the hallways, the old teachers with kind smiles, and the playground where the most action of our day occurred. For me, elementary school was not fitting in with anyone, watching the popular kids on the swings, and having only one other friend. I enjoyed it, but a little kid like me imagined what it was like to be even close to popular. There were no other Asian kids in my grade, let alone my school. I couldn’t talk or relate to any of the other kids about the stuff I did at home.

All the kids were athletic and went to soccer practice on the weekend. I stayed home and watched Tom and Jerry on the TV. They went to their friend’s houses overnight while I drew on the back of old worksheets. Their parents made them special peanut butter snacks for snack time while I ate rice from last night’s leftovers. My parents are immigrants from Vietnam, they didn’t know the opportunities for kids like me in America. I had to learn a second language to speak at home and I had to eat different foods at lunch. The weird stares I got when I opened my lunchbox were priceless. Third graders could not handle the weird food I ate during lunch.

A little bit older, fifth grade, being “yellow” wasn’t the ideal imagine of pretty in my school. All the girls with long curly blonde hair, skinny body, and tan skin, was the goal look. I wasn’t even close. I had black hair, chubby body, and light yellow skin. If you can’t tell, I was never popular. I fit in the Asian stereotype of being the smart kid that plays violin and piano. This was because I couldn’t fit in anywhere else. At this time, a lot of kids got meaner. They called me names and asked if I knew what, “ching chong”, meant. The meanest thing a kid said to me was to go back to my country and eat dog. I never hated myself more that day. 

Those comments got worse in middle school. I had a crush on a boy in sixth grade. He was tall, had blonde straight hair, and always wore Nike shirts that had motivational quotes. He was the class clown, the one who put himself out there to act dumb for laughs. One day, I was caught staring at him by his best friend. He called me out. Then he told me, “I’m sorry, don’t take this the wrong way… but I’m not into Asians.” I took it the wrong way.

In seventh grade, that same boy harassed me about being Asian. Calling me out in front of his friends, mocking stereotypes, and just made me feel like the ugliest person ever. One day, in math class he came up to me and showed me a drawing. It was a cat in a frying pan made from colored pencils. My face turned red as I was thinking what I wanted to say. I felt so ashamed of who I was. 

This year, eighth grade, the Coronavirus pandemic hit. I had just gotten back from my trip to California. I had caught a sickness but it was not corona. I stayed home and had gotten better by the time I got back to school. As I was packing up to go to my next class, the loud speaker called my name to go to the main office. I hurriedly walked there but as I opened the main office doors, the principal pulled me into the nurses office. Both, the principal and nurse, brought me to the closet in the back and locked the door. They questioned me about my previous sickness and that a teacher had a suspicion about the virus. The nurse emphasized the “Chinese” in her sentences. She asked me if I went to Chinese festivals, or if I was Chinese. It was in front of the principal too and he didn’t do anything to help me. I understood why they might’ve thought I had the virus, but they didn’t need to bring my race into it. 

I kept getting called into the nurses office for checkups on my symptoms. I had enough and started asking around if anyone else had gotten called down. A lot of kids go on vacation during the winter break and get sick. I couldn’t have been the only one. One of my friends had told me that they had called down two other students in the grade below me. Both of which were Asian. One of them had actually gone to China. It was reasonable to check him. But the other kid had gone nowhere. She was just Asian. 

I don’t hate being different. Middle school has shown me it was okay to be different. I met new people who were different like me and they turned out to be my best friends. I hated myself for so long because I was surrounded by people that weren’t like me. Even though kids said mean things to me and made fun of me, I wasn’t the problem, they were. 

So the truth is, the people who don’t accept you are total losers. I accepted who I was when I realized that I was so much more than mean people. Being Asian didn’t mean that there was something wrong with me, it just made me more special. I want others who are experiencing the things I did, to know that they aren’t the only ones. Our differences should be embraced.

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