for teens, by teens

Canvas Teen Literary Journal is published quarterly in print, ebook, web, video, and audio formats.

Seven Thing You Learn as an
asian-american kid

Amanda Ngo

1.) To hide food as quickly as a ninja (that’s most likely as close as we get to being a ninja). We learn how to keep our cultures hidden within our lunchboxes or we eat behind the fortifications of our arms. We keep our heads down and chew quietly, and we pray the other kids don’t call us out. Sometimes we don’t eat at all. It’s easier to suppress ourselves rather than explain what the smell is when we’re only eight years old.

2.) To speak English. Sometimes we feel like the only reason we learned this language is to prove to other people that we’re Americans because nearly every stranger that comes up to us is always ready and on cue: mouth wide open, enunciation followed by spit, slow and loud as if volume means anything to the foreign—“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” Yes. We do. 

3.) To speak other languages (sometimes). It helps us talk behind your back when you are insulting us in your own dialect of idiocy—“CHING CHONG CHING CHONG TOFU—what does that mean.” Two different surnames and a product made out of soy. Some of us grew up learning an Asian language because it connects us to our family and our roots, just like some of you might know how to speak something else, like French—yet you don’t see us going up to you shouting, “OUI OUI BAGUETTE.”

4.) To relay our immigration stories to people who don’t care.
“Where are you from sweetie?” 
“Uh . . . Boston.”
“Oh, no, I mean like when did you come to the United States?”
“. . . I was born here.”
“My grandparents fled—” 
“Never mind, dear.”

5.) To hate our own appearances. It’s like we’re walking targets. Yellow. Fob. Asian. Our squinty eyes, dark hair and brown to tan to apricot colored skin stand out from the sea of Caucasian—it’s not just us though. Anybody who isn’t white is a victim of an oppressive privilege. No amount of scrubbing will clean us of our heritage, and we are quietly shamed for that.

6.) To fold ourselves inwards until we are fully assimilated to the American ways. My school had to make up some snow days and so we had to come in on Good Friday and a boy in my class said, “Why didn’t they just make us go in on Chinese New Year?” First of all, we do come in on Chinese New Year. Secondly, what would even make that time of year a better choice than Good Friday? It’s because this is America and any other culture that isn’t yours isn’t worthy of a second thought, right? It’s because as Americans, we are expected to follow all your customs and religious holidays, right? You realize America is a diverse nation with many cultures and religions, right? We guess not. We’ll try to be more modest in the expression of our holidays for your sake next time.

7.) To be proud to be an American. We are taught to love our nation, to pledge allegiance to the flag, and to be grateful we live in a land where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are possible. We’re taught to be proud Americans, but not to be proud of who we are. We are taught to uproot ourselves and to bury our greatest histories in American soil, we are taught to be good minorities in a new land of opportunities, we are taught to keep every single aspect of the culture that makes us unique a secret because nobody cares to see us waving our traditions all over the place if they are not drenched in red, white, and blue. We are proud Americans—so why can’t we be proud of our origins, too?

Amanda Ngo is a sixteen-year-old girl who attends North Quincy High School in Massachusetts. She has won citywide essay awards in her hometown. She posts most of her poetry on, and her dream is to find her words tucked in a stranger's pocket one day.

© Canvas Literary Journal 2016
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