Learning the ABCs Backwards


Photograph via my mother.

Advice to my CBA 12-year-old self.

Chinese Born American.

You don’t have to apologize for it you know.
It’s not a crime, the way it sounds,
The way you sound or the way you look.

You are a walking anomaly
Some people will find fascinating and others puzzling.
Some, of course, will hate you.
And some people need to re-learn their 123’s,
Remember how to substitute some1’s ignorance for 2 listening ears,
Remember how to divide their attention to multiply their awareness,
And add a bit of ❤ to the equation.
You are not just a walking anomaly.

You are. Are not.

It will be difficult walking through the Northwest Arkansas Mall
On Veteran’s Day.
The old people all think you bombed Pearl Harbor.
They will glare.

It will be difficult walking through Woodland Junior High School hallways
Where people treat you like more thing than person,
Because glasses and Asian means nerd in media and culture,
Because no one is secure in junior high school.
You’ll have no social currency, but the money doesn’t matter anyways.

It will be difficult to stand up for yourself.
Stand up anyways.
It will be difficult finding friends.
Be a friend to yourself first.
It will be difficult to love your eyes.
Love them anyways.

You are. Are not.

People think learning Chinese growing up is easy.
It’s not.
They don’t know about Saturday morning cram sessions
For Saturday afternoon Chinese school
Attended by kids who really don’t want to be there.

Or, they think it’s so “exotic.”
So exotic, in fact, that when you call them nonsense in Chinese,
The principal freaks out about foreign languages,
And makes an announcement about “No foreign curse words!” while glaring at you.

You don’t always have to be right.
I’m sorry school tried to program you that way.
You don’t have to always be sorry.
Sometimes you’re not the one who has to apologize.

Don’t hate people because they cannot change.
Pity them.
Don’t hate the system for breaking down.
Change it.

Cry when you want to.
Laugh when you can.
Drown out the yelling with music,
Kill the bullies with kindness.

I haven’t got it all figured out yet, CBA.
I’m still learning my alphabet backwards,
Learning that beauty is more about soul
Than the way eyes or skin looks.
Learning that words carry so much weight
That bullets can fly.
Learning that some silences
Are louder than any debate.

If you can’t beat them, don’t join them.
If you can’t forget, at least forgive.

I have found a way home.
It is not on one shore or the other,
but somewhere far away.
Home will find you, but not on this world.
Too many see you as
Forever foreigner. Whitewashed. Yellow.
Not enough see the
Writer. Great Pretender. Lone but not lonely.

Start from CBA,
Then 1 day
Your 2 broken nations
Will play fair
in this 3-sided love.


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