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.
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.
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
Though I won’t be a doctor or a lawyer any time soon,
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.