The "Asian F"


United States
45° 5' 50.0172" N, 93° 18' 0.4068" W

In my family, the “Asian F” means receiving anything besides a perfect score.
The “Asian F” is anything less than 100; Fewer than 100;
An “Asian F” means that you aren’t giving 100% in Effort.
I mean, it makes sense if you do the math,
And if you’re Asian, you understand.
Because you’re good at math.

I’ve been an “Asian F” all my life,
And most people think it only applies to school,
But, truth is, I’ve been a Fool when it comes to understanding
How to be the perfect Asian.

Growing up,
English was my second language,
But after the first week in ESL,
I guess they thought, “There’s no way in hell
That English is her second language,
‘cause she speaks it too well.”
So at noon every day, the other Asians left together.
At noon every day, the other Foreigners left together.
At noon every day, I stayed with all the White kids
And I taught the White kids how to spell.

Kids always asked me why my last name wasn’t Lee or Chang or Wong,
And they also asked me why Asian last names "in general" were so long and difficult?
When I counted the ten letters in my last name
And I counted the ten letters in our first President’s last name,
I wondered why nobody thought that “Washington”
Was too long to learn to spell or pronounce correctly.
“Can we call you Vida B. instead?” teachers asked.
And I said, “Sure,”
Because apparently, it was helpful
For everyone else in the class
To forget that I had a last name.

Old home videos of me sitting in my daddy’s lap,
He asks what I want to be when I grow up
And before I can answer back,
He says to the camera,
“She’s my future doctor. Future lawyer.”
For a second, push fast forward
To some other home videos, in which I’m wearing a blazer
But I’m not winning a case,
I’m not holding scalpels or razors,
I’m the star anchor and reporter at a news station.
And I ask my dad if I can be a news reporter instead.
He immediately says, “No,” and sends me to bed.
“Asians aren’t on TV,” he says,
And when I ask, “What about Connie Chung?”
He laughs and tells me that she’s an exception.
That night, I realized that I might be an exception.

In junior high, at lunch, all the Asians sat together,
But I sat like a little yellow Koi fish in a sea of... fish that are really White.
The Asians would walk by and call me “white-washed” and “poser”
And when I got closer to the White kids,
They nicknamed me their "Little Twinkie”.
At first, I thought it was a really strange way of calling me sweet,
But then I realized they were saying I was
Yellow on the outside but White on the inside,
Like I was defective or wrongly manufactured
When I was Made in China.
I remember that day, I went home and cried
Because I didn’t know what color my insides were supposed to be
And I always thought everyone’s insides were just red.

I was always pretty good at science and math
But in high school, I learned that I loved Shakespeare.
I loved art and theater and reading and writing
And I couldn’t tell what I found so inviting about English
When it was the first thing I remember
To have ever made me feel uninvited.
I auditioned for my first play and I got a lead role,
And on opening night, my parents didn’t show up.
And every night through the last night’s performance,
I looked out onstage and saw everyone else’s families but mine.
And afterwards, I watched everyone else get
Hugs and kisses and roses
While I tried to find a ride home
Where my parents had stayed all night because
They didn’t believe in the theatre.
Honestly, I didn’t really care too much about the
Spotlight, applause, or the roses.
But a hug would have been nice.
Though really, I should have known that
Asian parents don’t hug or applaud their children
For acting White.

If there was such a thing as a “White F”,
I was probably that, too.
When they wanted answers to homework,
I was half of their Friend,
But when we walked into Subway after school
And the worker asked me if I wanted
Cat or dog in my sandwich,
No one defended me.
Instead, they asked if I’d ever tried it.
When questioned about being racist,
They always used me as a token
And claimed that they couldn’t be racist
Because they had an Asian friend
Who they were proud enough to be seen with
And take pictures with,
Even though they always asked me
Why I blinked in every photograph
When my eyes were wide open.

If an “Asian F” is an A-, then I was an Asian-American
Minus the Asian and minus the American.
Truth is, being an “Asian F” meant that
I was not a Full Asian. I was not a Full American.
Being an “Asian F” meant that I was never 100% of a person.
Was I White? Was I Yellow?
Some days, I thought, “To hell if I know”
Because sometimes I thought the White man knew more about
What it meant to be an Asian than I did.

Though I was born and raised in the United States,
I will always be asked, “Where are you from?”
When I reply, “Minnesota,”
They will always respond, “No, but where are you originally from?”
And honestly, the most accurate place I can think to describe
Is my mother’s womb.
My mother, whom I helped study for a citizenship test when I was five years old,
My mother, who knew that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States,
My mother, who remembered that Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863
Because January 1st was also the fake birthdate
They printed on her papers when she came here.
My mother, who knew more about U.S. history
Than the White contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”
Who needed to phone a friend when asked the definition of “immigration”.
My mother, who works harder than any other person I’ve ever met,
Who I was once ashamed to be ashamed of
When one day, she picked me up from kindergarten
And the other kids laughed because they said
She had a funny accent.
And I cried the whole way home and
I demanded that she speak the "right way"
And when she said she couldn’t,
I didn’t speak to her for the rest of the night.

Growing up, I was so ashamed to be an “Asian F”
And the worst part was that I was embarrassed
To be the person that my parents had fought so hard for me to be.
My parents weren’t immigrants; they were refugees,
And as much as the U.S. didn’t want foreigners,
Their home, their country didn’t want them either,
Just like neither the Asians nor the Whites
In my modern-day America wanted me.
But my parents swam across rivers, literally,
Fled from armed soldiers, literally,
Dodged sprinkling bullets, literally,
Wasted in refugee camps and did things that
Other parents read to their children
From Indiana Jones books before bedtime.
My parents took the only low-paying jobs they could get,
Lived in a cramped and crumbling Minneapolis apartment room
With the rest of the entire family,
And worked to eventually earn more than twice
The median American household income
That could buy them more than a hundred
Uncramped and uncrumbling Minneapolis apartment rooms per year.
They worked
To go to work every day
And be told by the White man
That they stole His American dream.
My parents learned English as a third language,
And thinking back to the kids who made fun of my mom’s accent,
I wondered if their moms could perfectly speak three languages, too.

At my grandparents’ 55th anniversary,
The ceremony was only spoken in Lao.
And when I went to hug my grandma,
She smiled and she told me to go be
The next President of the United States.
I asked if she thought I was smart enough to be the President,
And I wondered if she shared the public opinion that
All Asians were undeniably smart, too.
But she said, “Yes.” She said,
“Because you are your father and mother’s daughter.
Because you are my fourth granddaughter.
Because you have always made me proud.
And because America eats too many cheeseburgers,
So if you’re President, you can let me live in the White House
And I'll cook Lao food for the whole country.”

That night, my family roamed in from all parts of the country and the world.
They danced and shared laughter and stories
And it seemed that they were celebrating more
Than the single marriage of my grandparents,
But the marriage of two cultures three decades ago.
That night, I remembered,
My grandparents were the “Asian F”.
My parents were the “Asian F”,
But the major difference was that they were Fighters and
I was a coward.
For years, I cried and enveloped the character of a victim
Because it was already written and easier to do
Than to write my own play.
Every day, I was a Failure
For believing that everyone’s ignorant misconceptions
Would reflect whether or not I was worthy.
I was Foolish for
Mistakenly believing for all those years
That being a person was dependent on the shape of my eyes,
The number of letters in my name,
The color of my skin, or the origin that
I appeared to have to people who didn’t matter.
That night, I was proud to be an “Asian F”
And to have an Asian Family whose history was
Strong, colorful, and thoroughly perfect.

As an “Asian F” today,
I have Finally Found peace and Figured out
What it means to be Lao and
100% proud of that as much as I’m proud to be
An American.
Though I won’t be a doctor or a lawyer any time soon,
More importantly,
I will never again be ashamed
Or cross-examine myself for being
Yellow or White or unnamed
On test sheets that ask you to fill in a closed bubble.
And maybe my grandma’s right.
Maybe I could be the first Asian-American President of the United States.
After all, maybe it’s no coincidence that
There are just as many letters in “Washington”
As there are in
My Asian last name.

This poem is about: 
My family
My community
My country
Our world
Guide that inspired this poem: 



This is really amazing :)


Be proud of who you are- you are amazing and 100% the way you are suppose to be! God bless you, girl. This was amazing, thank you so much for sharing. 


This was so beyond incredible, you are such an incredibly inspiring person! I love what you've written SO much!


Thank you so much for sharing this with our community.  This is powerful work!


Your fellow Asian-American friend salutes you. :)


That was amazing! I am speechless.... *standing ovation* Brilliant work!


I would give this 4 stars if I could!  This is really an awesome poem!


I really liked this. There are no comparisons or metaphors in it, but i love how you tell a story.


What a strikingly beautiful portrayal of truth. Thank you.


Wow. absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for speaking and putting into words the thoughts of my own mind, along with many other fellow asians who do not fit the sterotypes society has imposed upon us. absolutely amazing. be proud of who you are, and never, ever feel like you are a failure. 


I am American, my parents are from Saint Vincent and the Grendines, a country in the West Indies Caribbean. I get asked all the time "what am I?" I understand and have gone through the 50 questions test of my origin, nationality and ethnicity. Finally someone who gets my struggle!! I've been ashamed of my parents country since a lot of people don't know about it, where it is and what is its history. I'm learning to be proud of where they come from and for having immigrant parents. I am a Vincentian American, and proud of it.


This is the truest thing ever. Amazing job!


This was the most beautiful, tear jerking, real, and utterly raw poem I've read in a really long time. I really enjoyed how honest you were in this piece; on how you've been treated, how you saw yourself, and everything that might be pushed away as meaningless and bring it to light as something that really does make even the smallest of impacts. This poem was a bit lengthy but I am really happy to have sat here and read the whole thing. It was beautiful and memorizing. There were moments where I feared I would end up sitting here at the office crying, and moments that made me laugh- like when your grandmother said because Americans eat too many cheeseburgers. There were parts where I was angry at the way you were treated, and the hypocrisy of others, angry at our generation and the reality of this world. Be proud not only of your (mixed) race, of your family, of your dreams but of who you are, have been, and who you will become. Stay strong and thank you for sharing this beautiful piece and thank you for being willing to open up so much.



Love it, had to read it the moment I saw that title. Yes, God bless you! You are awesome


What an incredible, stunning and raw look at the harsh realities of not conforming to soceity's stereotypes. I am a mexcan american and I could relate at times to what you wrote. Beautiful, beautiful is all I have to say. 


(*.*) That was the most mind-blowing, heartrending, remarkable, extraordinary, inspiring, and  exceptionally terrific poem I've EVER read!!! As soon as I started reading I couldn't stop =) I hope you do become the President someday or whatever it is you aspire to be!


Once I started reading, I couldn't stop . Your story, your parents story, and the endurances you all went through really touches my heart. I hope you do become President to set this country straight. God bless and good luck. Keep writing on my friend:)!!!


Absoulutly amazing. 


I really like this! Would it be okay if I performed this as a tournament piece at forensics tournaments?


I really appreciate that you asked for my permission! Yes, I would be honored to have you perform it. Best to you.


This really spoke volumes to me. My parents are not from the US and I've always been pushed to be a doctor or a lawyer, and that pressure is realy intense on m because I'm the first child and the first grandchild. Thank you for writing such an amazing poem.


Good job, you really let out all the emotions in your writing and I can hear your voice in it.

An excellent piece of work.


This is just so well-written. Thank you for writing this.


Beautifully written with a beautiful message. I don't often find long poems that hold my interest the whole way through, but yours did. Thank you for sharing your experiences so eloquently.


Wow, this is really cool. The emotions almost seem to surge from the words directly into the brain- you have a real talent.


Hello I really enjoyed this poem and I was also wondering if it would be okay if I could also perform this as forensics piece? Would it also be okay for you to give me your full name so that I could give you credit for the poem?

Thank you


Brilliant and heart-felt. I think you've told my story without knowing me at all. Thank you for sharing. 


love this!!

Holly Bernstein

This was absolutely beautiful! You truly are inspirational. Thank you for sharing this story, which you wrote perfectly, by the way, especially the ending! This is one of those poems that I would love to hear someone read out loud.


This is so beautiful. Thank you for being honest about your heritage; you are treading the problem of "positive racism" so well and so deftly by talking about this problem of Asian stereotypes. Thanks so much for putting this poem here for others to read. 


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