2010 Short Story Winners
FIRST PRIZE: What's Your Sky Like? by Bettina
SECOND PRIZE: The Search for Balance by Ke
THIRD PRIZE: Finding Where I Belong by Lynette
First Prize 2010 Short Story Contest
What's Your Sky Like? by Aniqa, Bangladesh/America, Age 16
Sparks. The image still on the television screen is so perfectly etched—a spark here, a spark there.
Fire. That’s all that seems to submerge me: words, phrases, fury, rage, fire.
Smoke. Gargantuan mounds of clouds inundated the hazy sky as I only dreamt of a crystal blue one.
As I walked into my novel school in California during the middle of the year as a seventh grader, I was expecting the usual middle school, but as life often likes, it proved me wrong yet again. Lockers perplexed me, trying to distinguish between the identical, brick red doors dizzied me, and storing all the new faces into my head mesmerized me. I was sure that I, standing at a grand total of five feet with the flamboyant pink jacket draped across my torso, attempting to make a statement, with straight-across bangs and flower headband, and my rectangle, plastic-framed glasses, confused everyone too—everything here made me think twice, but I was sure it was the same for everyone when they saw me.
Gradually, as I became accustomed to my new life, eating on a lunch table in the corner, in solitude, with only two friends grew to become eating in teachers’ rooms with numerous kids as I led club meetings: I had grown. I could definitely see my green light now and as I stood outside room 33 with a “burrito” in hand, I looked at the sky and only saw blue—clear yet wavering.
Sparks. Fire. Smoke. Broken.
As I finished my lunch, I walked to my fifth period, Spanish. Soon, the class settled down and began to work on a project that was about ourselves. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.
“Hey Aniqa, where are you from again?” asked a kid with a smirk on his face.
“Bangladesh. Why?” I replied.
“I bet he’s going to ask where it is,” I thought to myself, and as if on cue, he asked, “Where is it?”
“It’s the tiny country to the right of India,” I sighed.
“Tu eres una terrorista?” he asked, snickering along with the rest of his friends that congregated around him.
I sat there stunned and shamefully returned to my project.
Third grade—although I was too little to know anything about politics, I knew that what happened that year was gruesome. September 11, 2001 was a day that would change my future and mold it into something that would be plagued with the marks of judgment.
As I finished third grade, my family and I moved to California in 2002 to be closer to family. As time passed by, judgment began to augment. When people saw my mother in her traditional salwaar kameez, they stared. “What’s fasting, Aniqa?” began to be the annual question every single people asked once they heard what I was doing for Ramadaan. “Do you have to wear the head thingy-ma-jingy to cover your hair?” was a popular one too. But I have to say, the biggest one was, “Are you a terrorist?”
The hazy sky wasn’t a clear one. Although I had been born in Los Angeles, students almost always assumed that me being a Muslim, living in America, didn’t make any sense—I wasn’t American, I was a terrorist. “Terrorista, terrorista” seemed to be the chant that I would always expect to hear from a group in my Spanish class. Passing in the hallways meant being asked “What’s Allah?”
As I progressed to high school, I became shameful of my culture. “MOM! WHY are you wearing that?! No...you have to change!” I grew to be a hater and not an embracer. My hazy sky had changed into a total ominous one.
Looking back now, I realize that the events of 9/11 will continue to follow me everywhere I go; as long as I look Middle Eastern, it’ll follow. It simply surprises me that even being an American citizen makes people dubious—people are so hasty to judge. But now I know better.
As I stand outside, I see a grey sky. I, one day, hope to see a blue sky, but let me ask you: what’s your sky like?
Aniqa on Life Between Cultures: The hardest thing about balancing two cultures is probably keeping up with all that surrounds me: the American culture and the Bangladeshi culture; I'm constantly trying to learn about my two cultures and it's pretty hard but I enjoy every minute of it. Also the fact that you have to retain everything you learned ever since you were a kid is a pretty big job; you need to carry both cultures within you because you simply cannot forget who you. The best things about being an immigrant are eating all the different foods, being bilingual (even trilingual!), seeing the different types of entertainment, and simply just being a part of a whole new novel culture!
Second Prize 2010 Short Story Contest
The Search for Balance by Ke, China/America, Age 17
The first day of school buzzed with excitement as students reunited with their friends and talked excitedly about what had happened over the long summer. Like any other student, I lingered around the halls, catching up with my friends before dashing off to class right before the bell rang.
As I plumped myself in a seat, I surveyed my United States Government and Politics class and was eagerly reading the posters pasted on the walls for future reference. I was so engaged in the glossy, colorful posters that I had failed to realize that the discussion turned from new presidential nominees to the recent Summer Games held in Beijing. With a mixture of excitement and apprehension, I remembered the almost daily bashing of China’s Games during the summer as I listened closely to what my new classmates articulated.
Like I had expected, they talked about the smog, the incredible and useless amounts of money placed in the stadiums, the seemingly ten-year old gymnasts, the judge’s unfair favoring of China’s athletes, and the Chinese government’s cruel treatment of athletes for Olympic domination.
Feeling as if I was being personally insulted, I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide underneath the desk. This was not the first time China’s shortcomings was brought up in any social studies class, and each time China was criticized, I felt as if everything was directed at me, that Chinese girl.
Weird emotions churned inside as I again fought against feeling shame for the country I had been raised to love, and the desire to belong with my American comrades and bash the foe.
In many ways, the Beijing Games, debated so hotly among my peers, and the conflicting feelings I felt at that moment were the essence of my existence in the United States.
In my past, there were multiple instances of students pulling the corners of their eyes and mimicking incomprehensible Chinese syllables to me as they ran away laughing. As they became older, they realized the stronger effect in making snide comments and jokes about Chinese people. Even more impressionable were the unintentional critiques by Americans on the flaws of China and the Communist government.
Bombarded by so many of these memories and yet possessing an inherently strong connection with my native land, I strove to contradict the negative image of my nationality. I was always plagued by some sort of incessant desire to show the uniqueness and beauty of Chinese culture, just as Beijing poured so much effort and passion in organizing the Games to reflect off China’s exquisite image to the world.
As I watched China’s efforts being torn apart or fervently appraised by foreign tourists, the familiar emotions I felt were the same genuine happiness and heavy disappointment I faced as I clung to my roots and stood unique among my peers.
Just as much as I wanted to hold onto my unique Chinese roots, I wanted to be wholly accepted by and fit inside American society.
It was this delicate equilibrium between relishing one’s origins and assimilating into mainstream culture that both the Beijing Games and I sought. For Beijing, the goal was to shed away the decades in which China was known as “the Sick Man of the Far East”, and exhibit its modernizing society to become accepted by other nations as a political and economic strength. In much the same way, I sought to mimic American customs to fit within the society. I ate with spoons and forks during lunch, I stopped wearing bright neon colors with cartoons on my shirts, and refused to smile wide and make peace signs at cameras. Some aspects I hated to give up, but for the sake of being accepted, the things I cherished and loved had to be smothered.
Looking back upon my experiences living between cultures, the balance I had always hoped for was not unattainable. Yes, sacrifices are made in losing some aspects of my traditional culture and being deemed “odd” for different habits, but sacrifices are inherently inevitable. Finding that balance between keeping traditional culture and assimilating with another is part of the joy of being an immigrant.
In my quest to find balance between being a Chinese and an American, the mixture of uniqueness, among the security of being accepted despite one’s differences truly provided me with a satisfying experience. The Beijing Games, despite much criticism, did achieve a balance between savoring the traditional uniqueness of China and pressing forward on as a modern, assimilating nation. The problems concerning human rights are present, as are other problems, but no nation is without its issues. The Beijing Games, a large step taken to balance out China’s unique culture with modern culture, perhaps will lead to further steps to balance out China’s flaws with its merits.
Every time China is mentioned or criticized again in class or even among my friends, I no longer feel the conflicting emotions that plagued me before or remain silent. There are no longer feelings of shame or the desire to “belong” with my American friends because China does have its problems to resolve that should be acknowledged, but there are also incredible merits that are often missed. The Games and my experiences taught me that everything is intertwined in a delicate balance like yin and yang. Good and evil, shortcomings and merits, and uniqueness and conformity are all characteristics inherent in everyone.
Ke on Life Between Cultures: The hardest thing about balancing two cultures is finding and maintaining a sense of distinction and acceptance in each culture. No one likes to feel like an outsider. Yet in the United States, isolation was how I felt because instead of sandwiches, I ate dumplings, instead of football, I watched ping-pong, instead of leisurely hanging out with my friends, I studied, and instead of catching the newest Hollywood hit, I watched native Chinese dramas. These aspects of my life separated me from mainstream American culture. For a period of time, all I wanted was to be American because I was tired of my blaringly evident cultural differences at school. When I came home, I felt so much guilt at neglecting my heritage and the uniqueness that makes me a Chinese-American. Learning to love and be proud of my distinctive Chinese roots in America yet still patriotically embracing my American side was an arduous process. When I reached that point, I felt the best thing about being an immigrant; the feeling of acceptance in both native and American cultures yet still maintaining individual uniqueness.
Third Prize 2010 Short Story Contest
Finding Where I Belong by Lynette, Puerto Rico, Age 19
As soon as I step in the door, I realize I do not belong. Everything from the
way I am dressed to the way that I stand screams outsider. My boyfriend, Jon,
grabs my hand and steers me toward the dance floor trying to get me to loosen up. It's the grand opening of the newest hip-hop nightclub and everyone from our class is there.
As Jon leads the way, I see others turn and look at my clothes. I stand out in a very distinct way. While other girls are dressed in
jeans, mini skirts or their club tops, I am dressed in a fire engine red dress, with a matching red rose in my hair. It's definitely different, but I
wear it to represent the passion of my Latin culture.
Jon and I find a spot near the middle of the dance floor and begin to dance. I can tell he is enjoying his time here among his best friends and me, but I
have a different feeling. I know the song artists and all their lyrics, but I
feel awkward trying to dance to their music. I do not belong.
I tug on Jon's sleeve to get his attention and he bends down, so I can speak
into his ear. " Can we go?"
He nods and leads me out of the club to talk. "What's wrong?"
"I felt uncomfortable in there. Can we just go somewhere else?"
"Yeah, sure we can. Where do you want to go?"
I take a moment to think and then smile. "I think I have an idea."
Jon and I climb into his car and begin driving north towards downtown. "So, tell me," says Jon. "Why didn't you want to be in the new club?"
I lean my head against the car window and look out. "Have you ever felt like
the odd one out?"
"I think everyone does, sweetie. Why do you though?"
"Ever since I moved here from Puerto Rico, I've had a hard time adjusting. I
feel like I don't belong in the American culture, because I have different
beliefs and traditions than everyone else. But at the same time, I feel like I
don't belong in the Latin culture, because I've lost some of the Spanish
language and I haven't stuck to all the customs that my parents have. It's as
if I'm stuck in between them both."
Twenty minutes later, Jon and I pull up to another club, but this time the atmosphere is different. There is no hip-hop music, no club clothes, none of
that. We had made it to a little known salsa club on the outskirts of town. To
my classmates, it was a place they had never heard of. To me, it was my
Walking in, I see a sea of people dancing salsa, a bit of merengue and the cha-cha. I know they are dances that are lost on some people within the
American culture, but to my culture, they are the best type of dances. Inside,
the room itself feels alive. The people are smiling, the dancers are
passionate and my culture is showing its pride.
My heart begins to beat with the rhythm of the music. I close my eyes and feel the energy in the room pulsate and grow. I know it is time. I have found where
Lynette on Life Between Cultures: The hardest thing about balancing two cultures is trying to make sure you stay true to both. I never want to make my Puerto Rican heritage feel like I have forgotten what it means to be a proud Hispanic, but I don't want the American culture to shut me out or think of me as an outsider either. The best thing about being an immigrant is that I will forever be connected to Puerto Rico. I can call the U.S. my home, but I can also call Puerto Rico my home. Being an immigrant means belonging to more than one group.