First Prize 2007 Short Story Contest
Untitled by Angela, Taiwan/America, Age 15
He shifts his lower jaw, he wants desperately to bite down on his lip in blatant outward aggression, but he thinks that it would be too obvious. He is wary and resentful; a classmate has asked him what he is. He stares the girl down, keeping his dark brown eyes hard and blank. She falters and disappears into the mass of singularly defined students as the teacher walks back into the room.
What is he?
He is left staring at the ground. He is himself. He knows what she was referring to, are you white or what? What is your race? What is the color of your skin? What box can we peg you down into so we know how to deal with you?
His father is white, a Manhattan blue blood and his mother a Chinese woman who speaks without an accent. His parents' features are skewed on his face, long limbs and sharp cheekbones, wide eyes and arched eyebrows, pale white skin, not that olive-yellow tinge that he sees on his completely Chinese girlfriend or his mother. He has never wanted to be one or the other; he has only wanted to get through the next hurdle after the next. He supposes it would be easier if he were slotted into a category, somewhere definite instead of the slippery slope of intangibility.
No one has pushed him into one side or another, he has Asian friends, he has white friends, and he has friends everywhere in between if he looks hard enough. His parents linger somewhere on their own scale, dragging him through their own recreated memories. There are summers on the white sands of the Hamptons and the seas of Martha's Vineyard, the tourist˙s winding valley of Americana. He has gone through winters and spring breaks in China, crowds and the bustling sidewalks of Beijing as the dust blows into every open crevice until his mouth tastes of dead organisms and aridity, while Shanghai glows in bright light and the rushed Mandarin he cannot comprehend.
He could fall into the stereotypes he has heard, uttered by his friends of any race. He is tall, he understands math, the numbers clacking to place soundly in his mind, science falling into their little cubicles of the periodic table in an easy steady pattern, easily comprehendible and edible, and the only language he can speak perfectly is English. His English is American, slangy, proper, and definitive, though he is not. Why should he be? His fingers clench, why should he have to be one or the other?
Yet along the way, none of this has been absorbed, it simply lingers on the surface, awaiting his decisions. He feels no pull toward China or America, though he doubts he will leave the country of his birth because he would have nowhere to go and no other language to speak. His attention has already waned from the teacher's lecture and he decides that he will remain here, the country of America and indifference as he sheds the skin of his ethnicity and the idea of racial identity.
Angela on Life Between Cultures: Balancing two cultures is difficult when you are with people who do not have the same kind of culture as you. It makes it difficult to answer questions, to decide where you stand on things, and basically decide who you are. People expect certain things, they expect you to know different things and be different, but in a way, you're really not. When you are living in one country, you start to assimilate and be like everyone else, but some people still think you're not like everyone else. You feel a a sort of pressure, like you should know everything about the country your parents are from because that's what you are, ethnically. Sometimes, it is like you are held to a different standard.
The best thing about having two cultures is being able to experience the best of both cultures. You can experience different food, religion, whatever that comes out of what you have. You are a little more connected to the world because you know more than just one thing, you've experienced a little more.