Live Through This

Other Girls

I loathed and envied the kids in my class who reminded me every chance they had that I was not like them.

Illustration by Kelly

Here’s how the first half of seventh grade went down: I was living in Queens, New York, in a neighborhood that was once the residence of white, working-class folks who, in the six years that I lived there, all moved away, one household at a time. They were eventually replaced by Latin American families, whose children played soccer in the street, and Korean families who were seemingly always getting into minivans that took them to church, and Chinese families, like mine, that I can’t quite reduce down into an easy, tidy description because when you really know something, when you’ve lived it and are it—whether it’s being a girl or a teenager or a person of color or trans or queer or identifying as a wallflower or an outcast or whatever—you know that there’s nothing tidy or easy about it.

My parents and I lived in an old-school colonial house with another family, sometimes renting out the attic, sometimes not. There were rats in the walls, and when we boiled water in the kettle to make ramen, we would often find flattened cockroaches floating among the dehydrated peas and carrots. My next-door neighbor, a retired, third-generation Italian guy in his 60s who had an outdoor pool that I stared at from behind the wooden fence that separated our backyards and a German shepherd he loved to death, who once asked my dad, “Is it true—do you eat dog in China?”—this man, who was the last remaining holdout of a bygone era in which everyone who lived on my block was a third- or fourth-generation Italian, once let me hold his daughter’s pet snake, and another time, he told me that he liked me because I spoke English so well, because this is America after all, and if you’re going to live in America and reap the benefits and services that were built on the backs of hard-working taxpayers like him, then you could at least learn to speak the language properly.

“I learned English in six weeks,” I told him gleefully, wanting his approval the way I wanted my English teacher’s approval, the way I once wanted the approval of this girl in my fourth grade class who had platinum-blond hair and promised me that she would be my best friend if I would bring her 20 perfectly sharpened no. 2 pencils every day, which, of course, I did. “Good for you,” my neighbor told me. “They should all be like you.” They? I thought. That wasn’t my first taste of feeling like the “other,” and until the day I die, there won’t be a last.

When my friend Joy invited me to ride horses with her out in Montauk, I begged my parents to let me go, only to call them desperately from a payphone the first day, pleading with them in my I’m-gonna-cry voice to make the two-hour drive to Montauk to pick me up and take me home because the riding instructor mistook my crippling shyness for not knowing how to speak English.

“Can someone translate for her?” he asked whenever my horse stopped in his tracks, exasperated with me for holding up the group. I was upset with myself too for playing along—I became mute, the enforcer of my own silence, unable to explain that my horse just would not stop pissing and shitting and bucking, unable to say the words I wanted to say: “I’m doing everything you told me to. I’m pulling on the reins like you said, but my horse just wants to stop and poo every two minutes. And by the way, I speak and understand English perfectly, you waste of a bunghole.”

Most of the kids in my elementary school were Latino, Asian, Middle-Eastern, or black. In my sixth grade class, there were two white kids—one of them smelled like Cheetos, and the other had recently moved from Ohio and got his kicks by going around calling Farshid, the Persian kid in my class, “Fartshit,” and trying to come up with other ways to insult my classmates who had names and faces that revealed they were “not from here,” even when they were, and even though I knew that it was all bullshit, I struggled to articulate why it was just as right to point out that someone with a last name like Smith, or Henderson, or Gingrich, was also someone who was “not from here.”

I wanted desperately to get out. My friends spent the summer before seventh grade, the first year of junior high, plotting which gang they were going to join. Maybe it was nothing more than some kind of “I’m tough now, fuck you” act, and maybe for some kids in some neighborhoods in some parts of the world, the act is the reality, because how does one get to be tough as shit without having to pretend, at least a little at first? All I knew was that I wasn’t tough as shit. I was weak as a dead flower, ready to crumble at the slightest touch and fearful of everything, of going outside and being laughed at, of walking to the public library lest some older girls follow me and throw their McDonald’s french fries at the back of my head (which happened quite frequently). I was afraid of having to always prove to people that I could, in fact, speak English, afraid of not knowing how to respond whenever someone casually mimed exaggerated kung fu moves in front of me, or whenever someone asked, “Are you Chinese or Korean? I’m not trying to be offensive, I just can’t tell you apart.”

I wanted to live in a place where I didn’t have to remember to check the kettle for cockroaches before making ramen. I wanted to live in a house that I didn’t have to share with another family. I wanted to live in a neighborhood where it was unheard of that someone could be robbed at gunpoint on their way home from the subway, because I wanted to live in a place where there were no subways, just shiny cars that took bored, beautiful-looking teenagers everywhere. And oh yeah—that summer, I was slowly easing into becoming the classic textbook case of a moody teenager who was unceasingly dissatisfied with herself. I felt hideous, stuck in a body that made me feel vulnerable, like at any moment, someone was going to point at me and say, “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Look at her!” And sometimes someone did.

My family finally splurged on a basic cable box when I started seventh grade, and I sustained myself on a steady diet of puffy Cheetos and MTV music videos. I obsessively studied and desperately envied the girls in these videos—sulky rather than aggressive, oblivious to their own beauty, effortlessly cool, dreamy but put together, wild but not disturbingly so: it was a standard of perfection that I thought maybe I could rise to if only God or whoevs would send me a pair of tits already and make my voice less squeaky and annoying-sounding and give me bigger, rounder eyes, and longer, fuller eyelashes, wavier hair, a more mysterious, intriguing personality, and so on and so on.

Here’s how the second half of seventh grade went down: I moved to a suburban town in Long Island where there were no subways or soccer games on the street. The streets were empty. The kids in my classes seemed perky and untroubled. Most of them didn’t need to take the bus to school because they had parents who could drive them everywhere—to the movies, to their extracurricular activities, to sleepovers and hangouts and all the things that I was beginning to want but didn’t know how to be part of because most of the kids I had known were immigrants or children of immigrant parents who worked long hours, sometimes more than four jobs between them, but still couldn’t afford a car, and lived in apartments that were too small and cramped to host slumber parties.

If I had been lightly bruised by my previous brushes with racism—and no matter how well-meaning the perpetrator’s intention(s) might have be, being on the receiving end of racism will always hurt—then I was fully getting my ass beat after transferring to my new school in the suburbs. I went from a school where there were two white kids in my class to a school where the vast majority of the students were white. I was one of a handful of Asian kids in the whole district and one of two in my grade.* When we did a unit on World War II, the boys in my class took to calling me a “Jap,” even after we spent an entire class session talking about the war crimes the Japanese committed against the Chinese during the Nanking massacre. There was a girl who loved to remind me that I looked exactly like this one Korean girl, T., in the grade above us. Every time we passed each other in the hallway, she’d stop in her tracks and put her hands on my shoulder and say, “Wait, are you Jenny or T.? No offense, but it’s fucking hard to tell you apart.” And then she’d pat me on the back and continue on to class.

* Adding insult to injury, the one other Asian kid in my grade not only refused to admit that he was Asian, but he also constantly made fun of me for being SO ASIAN.

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100 Comments

  • rosiesayrelax February 10th, 2012 3:11 PM

    wowzers.

    http://rosiesayrelax.blogspot.com/

  • Susann February 10th, 2012 3:12 PM

    This was so interesting and well-written! :)

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • mangachic February 10th, 2012 3:24 PM

    Amazing post…
    I’ve gone through the if you’re shy (and for me accented) you must not know what english is (and must have nothing worthwile to say)
    But certainly not the blatant racism. That sounded terrible.

  • A February 10th, 2012 3:25 PM

    white people get even worse when no one who is perceivably ‘of color’ is in the room (“I’M NOT RACIST BUT *super racist thing*”). you’re brave and i’m glad you found your voice. i can’t believe some of the shit people actually say!!!!

    • leraje February 14th, 2012 1:05 PM

      my life as a light skinned latin@.

  • SparklyVulcan February 10th, 2012 3:56 PM

    Never gone through this, and I only have one asian friend who laughs at herself for looking ‘really asian’ in pictures, but this is a very expressive and beautifully written post. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  • youarebananas February 10th, 2012 3:59 PM

    jenny, thanks for this post–amazing insight.

  • Lurkingshadows February 10th, 2012 4:04 PM

    Wow i had no idea things could ever be this bad. Your story is truly inspirational. As a pale red headed girl, I could never escape the slight comments that really didn’t make me mad, but just slightly self conscience. “your paleness makes you look like your sick” or people calling me “ginger” I get ginger quite a lot. But the thing that makes me really mad is when people just come up and inform me that I have red hair…like they think I didn’t know already. In time I have learned to not care what anyone says. Thanks for this

    • Johann7 February 13th, 2012 1:41 PM

      As a fellow redhead who occasionally gets this, my favorite response is, “Holy shit, really??!! Aaaahhh!!!” followed by my best bitchface. Second favorite is, “Yes… I do…” in a condescending tone, combined with wide eyes and a slow nod. I’m not sure if trying to make other people feel stupid for trying to Other one, especially by simply pointing out obvious differences on which there’s really no reason to comment (“You’re Asian!” “Yes, I am. [Implied: any other obvious and completely irrelevant observations, you idiot?]“), is necessarily the best policy, but it sure is satisfying.

      • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:03 AM

        That’s a GREAT response! Yeah, I’m always befuddled as to how to respond when someone points out something so incredibly obvious like WOW YOU ARE THIS THING and then seem to want you to respond to it or seem to be totally pleased with themselves for pointing out something that has been pointed out to you 2419208413 million times before. But bitchface is definitely the most personally satisfying response.

  • Juniper February 10th, 2012 4:07 PM

    I just love love this story (and all of Jenny’s stories so much)
    I can really relate to this.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:03 AM

      Thank you Juniper! I love that you are reading my LONG stories <3

  • Sphinx February 10th, 2012 4:28 PM

    I’m half japanese, and I can totally relate to this!
    When I was in pre-school, I was the only asian kid in the entire school, and my classmates invented a tag game. They would call me jap, pull their eyes into slits and say “ching ling” until I ran after them, furious, to kick their asses.
    When I changed schools things actually got better (well, sort of). In my new class, there were 7 other asian girls, and I didn’t feel so out of place anymore. The downside is that I sort of felt obligated to join their group, and some of them were really horrible to me. (a couple are still my best friends, so it wasn’t that bad)
    Then, I changed schools again, and it seems like 70% of the students are asian. Even the ones who aren’t are somewhat interested in japanese culture, so there are few racist commentaries (besides stupid sterotypes). Things got better.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:05 AM

      I am SO glad you are in a new school now and getting less racist comments. Sometimes when I hear people say that we live in a post-racial society and overt racism is pretty much eradicated now, I want to be like BUT MY WHOLE LIFE EXPERIENCE HAS NEVER BEEN “POST-RACIAL!”

  • Jane February 10th, 2012 4:43 PM

    Very well written and I love the illustration!

  • MissKnowItAll February 10th, 2012 4:45 PM

    I can totally relate to this. I also grew up in Queens but went to a middle school that was predominantly attended by white kids. I arrived the first day of 6th grade dressed head to toe in Old Navy. Everyone else wore tight formfitting Abercrombie t-shirts and jeans. I felt so out of it when they would talk about the boys that they kissed at a party over the weekend. I felt desperate to fit in.

  • emile February 10th, 2012 5:05 PM

    although i can’t relate to the racism, i deeply appreciate your courage to share this part of your life. it actually came at a perfect time for me (this is the second blog to do so today). while, again, i haven’t experienced the harshness of racism, i can certainly relate to the harmful obsession with an ideal that is out of your reach. i’m learning to release my obsession. it’s slow work, but the reward of reclaiming my personality + creativity + compassion is absolutely worth it. thank you for writing such an amazing, inspirational article. x

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:27 AM

      I’m rooting for you Emile! I’m glad you could relate to this article. It deals specifically with my experience and a lot of that deals specifically with race, but I hope it’s still useful and applicable to anyone who is dealing with the hard work of “reclaiming” their personality+creativity+compassion as you so beautifully put it. <3

  • AllieBee February 10th, 2012 5:12 PM

    Why are all teenagers obsessed with stereotyping themselves? It’s totally unecessary if you ask me!

    http://thatalisonwonderland.blogspot.com/

  • giov February 10th, 2012 5:53 PM

    This article makes so much sense to me right now as I am struggling with the power that Other Girls have over me and my feelings. I’ve always felt way different from Other Girls and it’s SO hard finding a balance between wanting to be exactly like them and exactly the opposite. Well written as usual Jenny, you rule.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:06 AM

      You’re welcome! It’s cheesy to say but it’s true that we have to find self-acceptance and there is something radical about self-love when we’re brought up in a society that encourages very little of it.

  • macipisi123 February 10th, 2012 5:59 PM

    crikey, i’m sorry all this happened to you. i live in a tiny predominantly white town in eastern europey, and while there is a lot of racism for me to desperately try and yank out of people’s behaviour, so much of this came as a sad shock, wtaf :c

    in a way that’s completely unrelated to race, though, i needed to read this badly. that last paragraph is where i’m currently at and, even though i’ve realised most of those things, i still feel caught out xD thank you <3

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:07 AM

      You are welcome! And though this particular essay deals a lot with the entwining of identity and race, I think it’s applicable to all the sinister forms of idolatry.

  • Mags February 10th, 2012 6:02 PM

    Amazing writing!

    I live in a community where most of the population is the same culture as I am, but as soon as I leave its confines, I feel the racism right away. I think I will always feel “other.” But I love myself anyway.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:07 AM

      I love that you love yourself! Stay fly and breezy, girl.

  • Adrienne February 10th, 2012 6:52 PM

    Wow. I can completely relate to this article. Middle school was definitely the time I started comparing myself to others racially. I had longed for brown or blonde hair, and eyes that aren’t brown. I became ashamed of my Asian-ness. I’d tear up and maybe sometimes cry when kids would say “Ching chong chang” and when they’d pull back their eyes. Or when they’d make a comment about how weird the Chinese culture is. And I really dislike the stereotype of how all Asian people are smart and look alike.

    I’m in high school now, and kind of like Jenny, I got tired of hating myself and wishing that I was someone else. I’m becoming more accepting to myself in a way, and whever someone makes a stereotypical comment, I pity them for their ignorance.

    Now, whenever someone says “Ching chong chang” I just say “Omg I never knew you spoke Panese”.
    Then they’d say, “What’s Panese?”
    “The sound of two pans clanking together.”

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:09 AM

      OMG, that is the BEST response. “Panese” is such a clever way to subvert other people’s annoying attempts at obvious racism and ignorance. And you bring up a good point about stereotypes that are seemingly “positive,” like all Asian people are smart that are still totally harmful and ignorant and negate the ability of an entire group of people to just be whoever they fuck they are.

  • Amber306 February 10th, 2012 7:03 PM

    Thank you for this, I can relate a lot to the racism. I’m in a 5A school and there are only around 20 black people in it including me. If someone says something racist I either stay silent or if I respond I get the ” It’s not that big of a deal” statement. Until now I thought I was overreacting, but it’s nice to relate to someone who has been through almost the same thing and feeling undesirable because your features aren’t the most predominant and no one appreciates them. This just really puts things in perspective for me and I needed this article.
    Thank You Rookie!

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:11 AM

      Yes! Never feel like you are overreacting when someone says something racist, even if you know their “intentions” are good or whatever. No one deserves to be unfairly labeled, stereotyped, or have the complexity of their existence boiled down to a joke or an ignorant comment. The hard part is wanting people to take your reaction seriously without feeling like you have to defend how you feel and why you feel as strongly (or not as strongly) as you do.

  • Adrienne February 10th, 2012 7:17 PM

    Oh and I would love to add that Kelly’s illustration is amazing. :)

  • jeanette February 10th, 2012 7:18 PM

    I feel that, even though you live in America and I in England, even though you write about experiences you had when you were around about my age, that I can relate completely to the misery, sadness and pain that we were both subject to as young Asian girls growing up in predominantly white areas which were, frankly, pretty racist towards us. In retrospect, I find it difficult to articulate about that pain because I am embarassed. I know now that it was silly of me to be jealous of anyone that caught my eye who had big, Caucasian eyes and slicked back ponytailed hair. But my common sense jars with my memories, so horribly/wonderfully vivid, of my 9/10-year old self crying and begging God to let me wake up white. I don’t really have to talk about my experiences (though I doubt I could) because I know you understand how much of an impact racism can have in such a situation; in our situation. I know you understand because I understand you too. And just like you, I will hopefully rise above it and I will write and inspire just like you have inspired me. Thank you.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:12 AM

      I really do understand and I am so happy that you understand me too. And believe me, even when I was writing this, there was a large part of me that still felt embarrassed like I was confessing something shameful, but it helps so much to have a community of cool Rookie readers like you. We’ve got each others backs <3

  • Sonia February 10th, 2012 7:42 PM

    This was incredibly interesting
    but I’d like to say that I’m 15 and Asian and live in a average english town, and I’ve never been treated with anything but respect and equality and I’ve never been made to feel anything but completely and utterly accepted, so I just felt like saying they’re not all like that. But super interesting nonetheless!!

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:20 AM

      Oh totally–I have friends who grew up Asian/black/Latino/native/mixed race and have had similar experiences to you… and some of them then went on to have similar experiences as me or continued to be treated with respect and dignity. I’m always so super glad to hear when people make it through high school unscathed by racism and ignorance. I’m happy that you know cool, accepting, thoughtful people! xx

  • stylepukka February 10th, 2012 8:10 PM

    jenny, is it creepy that i need to read every post you make? i wish i could write as well as you and i love your style of writing.

    yeah, in my private catholic elementary school there were three asians, and all of them were vietnamese (like me). luckily my school had a strange fascination with asians so we didn’t have that hard of a time.

    stylepukka.blogspot.com

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:21 AM

      It’s not creepy! But then again, maybe it is NARCISSISTIC of me to say that it’s not creepy! Thank you so much for reading <3

  • marit February 10th, 2012 10:35 PM

    “when you really know something, when you’ve lived it and are it… you know that there’s nothing tidy or easy about it.”
    so true.

    faux style.

  • mayafairy February 10th, 2012 11:12 PM

    This spoke to me so much. I’m half Japanese and I go to a primarily all-white school. I get this sort of thing ALL the time. It makes me unbelievably angry. However, I am unlike you in that I am one of the most outspoken people in my grade. People know not to be racist or really offensive at all around me. Most of the things people say to me don’t mean to be reacist, but somehow end up that way.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:23 AM

      It’s the worst when someone doesn’t mean to say something racist or hurtful but then you still experience as such because then it’s almost like you have no way to explain the truth of your experience because the person who made you feel bad doesn’t think of himself/herself as a malicious or bad person, but it’s important to remember that subtle and unintentional forms of racism are still racism and it’s better to learn from it then be all “But I didn’t mean to be offensive!”

  • Karen February 10th, 2012 11:36 PM

    Wow. As a Chinese high schooler living in a relatively affluent, primarily white community I feel like I can totally relate to this story. Although the blatant racism never really came into play in my life, both the feeling of alienation and wanting to remove the “other”-ness and, thankfully, getting over the obsession did.
    Fantastic writing, Jenny! Will share with my little sister :)

  • Killjoy February 10th, 2012 11:40 PM

    I can totally relate to this article. I am asian. In American, people would ask me if I spoke English, they would ask me if I was Chinese, and they would ask me if I ate dog. Now, I live in China and attend an international school where there are only 4 white kids in my class.

    GO ASIANS!

  • Geiko Louve February 10th, 2012 11:56 PM

    it´s a shame not to be proud of our culture.

  • appledarling February 11th, 2012 1:02 AM

    I totally feel ya…. I’m born half Caucasian, half Chinese. When I first started off at a ‘mostly Caucasian’ school, they told me to play with the other ‘Chinese’ kid (who was actually Philipino) boy, and when the bullying was so bad there and I transferred to a school in a high density Chinese neighborhood, where the other Chinese kids told me that I couldn’t play with them because I was white.

    At least good books, food, and my Poupou (Asian grandmother) were always up for hanging out when needed.

    It’s nice to read your story because I remember then in middle school that seeing the ‘preppy’ girls, and how they had so much power over me and how they made me feel like crap. Because then I recently ran into a Korean girl years later, who went to the same school and was in the same year as me, and she said that I gave off a large presence to her even though I felt lonely… I am now starting to think if somehow… unintentionally, I negatively effected her too.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:16 AM

      That’s so interesting that your former classmate thought you had a large presence. I’ve had that experience before too… when I suddenly realize that I’m scared of spiders but spiders must also be scared of me, except THE SPIDER IS A METAPHOR FOR OTHER PEOPLE! That’s not an elegant metaphor, but you get where I’m headed (I hope!) Yeah the feelings of belonging and “other” can be incredibly complicated for mixed race folks. There’s a great writer Eula Biss who writes about this stuff really beautifully and insightfully. I recommend checking out her essay “Relations.” http://www.identitytheory.com/nonfiction/biss_relations.php

  • jenjencm February 11th, 2012 1:43 AM

    I’m sorry you had to go through all of this. No one should ever have to deal with that. I’m Filipino American (Pacific Islander) and people mistake me for being Asian all the time. So I kinda can relate, the worst racist comment someone has said to me was, “You hate the U.S. right because you’re Japanese.” And it really bothered me espescially because it wasn’t the first time this person has been racist towards me and I’ve repeatedly told him I’m filipino and still calls me something else just to piss me off!

  • Afiqa February 11th, 2012 4:59 AM

    I never thought about this but I just noticed, I’m Asian and I live in an Asian country. Even though most of us are Asian (obviously) but a majority of us also wished we were American or British. There were times when some girls would say aloud that they wish that they were white with blonde hair and all. It doesn’t feel right that this kind of thing also happens at a place where everyone is Asian.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:18 AM

      Yeah, I know what you mean. I see this manifesting itself a lot when I go to visit my family in Shanghai. It makes you realize how pervasive these harmful standards of beauty can be… where entire countries are pushing for a standard of beauty that simply does not describe most of the people in it!

  • KayKay February 11th, 2012 8:12 AM

    Great article! So raw and honest about the entire issue with obsession and trying to morph in to something/somebody you’re not.
    Being one-quarter Hong Kong chinese, I feel racism, too. I’m three-quarters Swiss, so I don’t look very chinese, just my eyes have an asian touch to them and if you know I’m part chinese, you can tell. But racism still upsets me. Not just racism towards asians (Korea, Japan and China are THREE DIFFERENT COUNTRIES PEOPLE… it annoys me every time, we do look different), but any sort of racism.
    Here in Switzerland there are many conservative, racist people (such as the political party SVP, who made many racy campaign posters that made my mother and I want to draw mustaches on the posters of their faces and then throw eggs at them). Particularly against people from eastern bloc countries or Turkey, or muslim or colored people, there is a lot of racism.
    Having lived in the middle east for the greater part of my childhood and going to an international school surrounded by children and teachers from all over the world, I’ve come to respect and value different cultures. It never struck me as weird that a boy in my class was called Samir or that muslims celebrate Ramadan and don’t eat pork or that my best friend in first grade came from Iran.

    Your story also reminds me of the book “Girl In Translation” by Jean Kwok, about the struggles of a mother and daughter who are chinese immigrants in New York.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:25 AM

      I’ve been meaning to check out Jean Kwok’s book! And yes, the way that racism plays out in European countries is very peculiar to each country and very different in a lot of ways from the US. I lived in France for a year and was consistently surprised by how almost accepted certain forms of racism were–like I met a lot of people who were very outspoken about their xenophobia. I’m not saying that everyone in France is a flaming racist, but it was interesting how those who were didn’t really dance around the issue and were very direct in sharing their views.

  • mamacass February 11th, 2012 12:41 PM

    This is a wonderfully well written article. And I believe it’s still quite topical in our current environment (which is sad). People’s lack of empathy really surprise me and I think the world would be better place if they could walk in someone else’s shoes for a day. I don’t understand why strangers find it necessary to ask “where are you from?” when they first meet me (or better yet, “what are you?”). I was born in Springfield, MO and raised in LA. And I’m a human.

    There is only one race, the human race.

    http://www.cassandrahsieh.com/

  • Ayla February 11th, 2012 3:02 PM

    In the city that I live there are small clusters of Asian girls that go to the business school nearby and they are the coolest girls around!
    I always love what they wear and their gracefulness.

    I remember when I was a child, our entire family was at a Chinese restaurant and my grandpa was trying to get me to say “Ching chong” or something of the sorts to the Chinese waitress. I politely declined multiple times and when my mom found out she got really angry, picked me up and left.
    She’s amazing.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:28 AM

      Your mom is an amazing lady! Big ups to her! We need more mommas like her.

  • Ola February 11th, 2012 4:22 PM

    LOVING this post. Good for the author, finding her voice and telling people to fuck off!

    I hope there will be more articles about race in the future. Rookie is a publication that deals with many feminist topics, and the significance of race within that spectrum (or any spectrum, really) is important.

  • Emilie February 11th, 2012 5:42 PM

    Oh my god that illustration, beautiful.

    • Emilie February 11th, 2012 6:04 PM

      Also, this article is incredibly powerful, thank you

  • ZGal February 11th, 2012 6:53 PM

    Oh my goodness, thank you soo much for this article. i’m honestly sitting behind my computer screen with a huge smile on my face!!! it was sooo raw and soo truee! i’m nigerian, and my family and i are refugees, we came to the states when i was really young so i mostly grew up here, and adopted english fairly quickly, but it wasnt enough to escape the feelining of “otherness” that you explained. I wanted to be proud of my african heritage but being put into the classic “black” stereotype of being ghetto really pissed me off. i think for most africans, (or at least for me) it mostly about trying to be proud of where you come from without having to be placed in a box. we want to be nigerians, or kenyans, or south africans, we don’t want to be african-american, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we just want to be unapologetic about where we come from, without silly stereo-types about living in huts, and being dirt poor (there’s poverty in every country) not just in african ones. and not being labeled as a continent, we are individual countries! to this day when i fill out government forms theres no bubble to fill in for just african, and not african-american. we even get racism from black people, calling us slaves, and stupid, and really hurtful words. i think all foreign girls (and boys) need to stick together, the world isnt just white, there are many DIFFERENT, INDIVIDUAL, BEAUTIFUL, faces, and the world needs to realize it!

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:32 AM

      Holy shit, I can’t believe people would say that stuff to you–well, actually I can totally believe it, sadly enough. I teach high school students in the Bronx and a lot of my students are African, and a lot of them are refugees as well, and we talk a lot about how it feels to be lumped into the same category as black Americans and how by creating these fictitious categories like “black” “Asian” “Latino” or whatever we can actually cement these social fictions into social reality, and that can be a disheartening experience on a daily basis.

  • ZGal February 11th, 2012 6:59 PM

    also people shows and cartoons with no filters and boundaries like family guy, maybe funny today, but all they’re really doing is planting a seed, and tomorrow, what was once funny, and supposedly done all in good fun, has now turned into hate, and a very deep hate at that, bcuz, “people on t.v. said it why can’t i?” also says a lot about the kind of music thats mainstream now, the kinds of words and language they use is appalling! and saying “its only okay, bcuz i say” won’t stop someone from saying it, and calling somebody it!

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:35 AM

      Yeah, it’s interesting too because sometimes a joke about racism or sexism or homophobia is almost like a meta joke, like laughing at people who are racist or homophobic or sexist, but the dark side of that is when that added filter is taken away and you realize there is a good chunk of the population who are just laughing at the racism/sexism/homophobia and taking pleasure in it, and that’s when my stomach really curdles. Kurt Cobain went on the record, I think, to say that he was really disturbed by these frat boys who listened to Nirvana and actually seemed to be taking pleasure in exactly the things that Nirvana was critiquing–machismo and rape culture and sexism–and same with Dave Chapelle who started to feel like he had fans who were taking pleasure in the racism in his sketches, even though he was critiquing racism, but that added crucial bit of critique was lost on some of his fanbase and that really disturbed him.

  • Ferret February 11th, 2012 7:05 PM

    Thank you for sharing your story, Jenny. It’s encouraging to hear how you have overcome all these obstacles and come off as a better person. As a Chinese person living in New Zealand, I’ve always wondered if the racism was worse in other English-speaking countries.

    Up until recently, I went to a high school (I’ve moved to a new one now) where I was one of just two Chinese students there. I didn’t really suffer from any direct racism, however any time I’d overhear a racist joke involving typical Asian stereotypes, it really hurt — whether I wanted it to or not. I hated them for thinking that they could make me feel like I was to blame for what race I was born into. Even little jibes now and then were sort of reminders of how I could never fit in and be “one of them”.

    The ones who had made me feel this way weren’t just people set out to intentionally bully me, but also teachers and sometimes friends. It’s important to remember, though, not everyone out there is like that… it just seems as though cultural ignorance seems more prevalent in this generation (smh).

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:37 AM

      You are welcome! I am also curious about people of color experience racism in other countries… I hope there are safe places to trade that information and support each other. To me, Rookie is definitely one of those places. I know what you mean about the ‘little jibes’ making a big impact. That’s part of what is so devastating about racism. The person who is affected can feel the sting long after the moment is over, while the person doing the ‘affecting’ might forget about it as soon as the comment leaves his/her mouth.

  • atticus February 11th, 2012 9:42 PM

    Beautful

  • SweetThangVintage February 11th, 2012 11:41 PM

    I teared up in the last paragraph! That line about wanting to live longer to appreciate something you’ve discovered more was genius.

  • Lin February 12th, 2012 5:30 AM

    Prejudice and acting stupid because of it, is disgusting. Everyone has some (deep inside), but if you realize you are unfairly prejudiced about something, then you shouldn’t flaunt it at least.
    However, looking at USA from another continent, (where it’s totally different) it seems that people of color want to not be referred to as people of some special group (especially by so called white kids), doesn’t want it to be mentioned as important thing about them, but at the same time they get this I’m Asian, I’m Latino thing going on between themselves and talk about WHITE KIDS. Honestly, not being from USA, I am not getting this. For example that famous ‘n’ words some guys use talking between themselves, but will kick some white dude’s ass, if they used it.
    Sorry Americans, your prejudice patterns are complicated.
    But, I think, we should all accept that we are different, denying it won’t solve anything. I am proud of my cultural heritage, and if I moved to USA, I would stay that way. People should accept their differences and others and love themselves and each other because of them.

  • KatiCleo February 12th, 2012 11:12 AM

    I can relate to this. Here in Greece there people have Albanians as objects of racism, and even though I am not Albanian, I see it every day, and the worst thing is that kids don’t do it as much as adults. There is not really a lot of racism between teenagers and kids towards differences on race and sex and I think that this is caused by the small number of students that each school has. Schools here have more or less up to 550 students so there are no definite groups and everyone hangs out with everyone. I think this fact makes living here nice.
    Apart from that, I, too, was always the “other” and was constantly trying to fit in.
    I had a weak character and wasn’t that self confident, so I was always chasing after my “friends”, who remembered me only when they needed me for something. But now, I am good friends with those “friends” from 4 years ago, I’m pretty social and have really good friends by my side. And I think that this is caused by the fact that I started to be proud of who I am and I’m showing off that fact. I stopped paying so much attention on how people thought of me and acknowledged my mistakes.
    Also, I have a friend who is a fanatic Belieber (meaning Bieber fan). And it’s really worrysome, like REALLY. She is mentally sick! Any help on how to make her stop being a fan??
    Plz

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:41 AM

      I’m so glad you have made other friends and are feeling confident and not caring about what other people think about you. That is the best ever! As for your friend, the Bieber fan, I don’t know what to say! I was once a sick fangirl myself (of a certain 90′s trio of teen heartthrobs that I may have written a very long essay about for Rookie…) so I don’t know what to say about that!

  • Giulia February 12th, 2012 12:02 PM

    Ugh. I wish I had a longer life to read this more.

  • MissKnowItAll February 12th, 2012 1:16 PM

    This is so beautiful and eye opening. When I started 7th grade, I was the only Indian girl on that floor. This one boy would run up to me every single day, singing the “Red dot on your head” song. It pissed me off to no limit and I eventually decided that I wanted it to stop. So I watched the Latino and white girls (they were the majority group in my school) and tried to copy them. I saved up for months to buy an Abercrombie sweater. I bought skinny jeans identical to the ones worn by the popular girls. I bought a tiny North Face bag and tried to emulate them. Then during the summer before 8th grade I felt horrible for trying to change myself. My grandmother would tell me that I was beautiful and that I didn’t need to change for anyone. But I didn’t believe her. I tried so hard to get the teasing to stop that I didn’t realize that it was eating away at me. I was tired of being my own worst enemy so when 8th grade started I decided to give up. I wore my bindi and Kurta top for the first day and I really didn’t give a shit about what the popular girls had to say.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:43 AM

      YES, don’t give a shit what the other kids say! That’s easier said than done of course, but I’m proud of you that you realized the effect the other girls had on you and that you decided it wasn’t worth it to let their judgments rule your life. I promise the more confidence you allow yourself, the easier it becomes to stay confident and be EVEN more confident, and then eventually you’ll feel like the flyest girl around with nothing stopping you from reaching new echelons of flyness.

  • alexisatrocity February 12th, 2012 2:56 PM

    as a half asian i sorta just got used to the endless questions about where im from and the meanness (ppl in school didnt call me by my name, they just said ASIAN) and racism and everything (even tho the worst of the bullying is really over coz im out of high school) and its really just become well… normal for me. its been such a frequent occurrence for someone to ask me where im from or that i just happen to have really distinguishing asian features that there is really just NO WAY i can be german blooded that i dont really notice anymore (even tho i do get upset everytime).

    i forgot how much its still going on in my life until i read this article and remembered :[

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:44 AM

      Ugh, it’s true that even seemingly innocuous questions like “where are you from” can be hard to deal with and the worst is when someone makes you feel like you are just being unnecessarily sensitive.

  • joenjwang February 12th, 2012 4:50 PM

    It’s funny how people identify patterns and start to believe that these observations are, no, must be universal. For example, today I overheard a conversation between an Asian boy and girl:

    Boy: “Dude, I am so much cooler than you. I don’t even have one Asian friend. You have like an Asian crowd though, lame.”

    Girl: “I have like 2 Asian friends. I’m not like those other Asians…”

    Boy: “Still, two more than I have. Still really uncool. Why do you have so many Asian friends? I deliberately stay away from that crowd.”

    Girl: “It’s only two!….Yea (this is when she started to give in and tried to make herself seem “cool”) I am actually really white. Seriously! Ask my friends. They all say I am so white!”

    First of all, WHY DOES THAT MATTER? My god, it’s not like I chose to be Asian, so why do you have to judge people according to this one aspect? Sure, I am Asian and have Asian friends, but it’s not like I became friends with them because they were Asian.

    But seriously, people are so bitter about that. I don’t get why that is something to get so offended by. Also, why is that so uncool?

    Second of all—“I am actually really ‘white’”? This is just pure ignorance. You are not “white” anything. “White” isn’t an ethnic group, “white” isn’t a people.
    jwbats.tumblr.com

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:46 AM

      Ah! I’ve heard this exact conversation so many times! And you are right to say that “white” isn’t an ethnic group–in fact, the idea of race and ethnicity is a total social fiction, but it’s also a social fact because race and ethnicity is enforced even though there is really no biological/scientific basis for discrete categories of “races.” Thanks for sharing!

  • anisarose February 12th, 2012 8:16 PM

    Wow! this was such a great way of explaining the feeling of isolation because of race. As an ethnic (Iranian) and religious (Baha’i) minority, I have always felt a little isolated by my classmates and while my experience hasn’t been as extreme, I can relate to many themes in this essay. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    anisarose.blogspot.com

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:47 AM

      You are so welcome! Thanks for sharing a little bit of your experience and yr blog <3

  • Salomeq February 13th, 2012 10:20 AM

    wow! this is really great! makes you think about lots of things, and how racism is a really bad thing….

  • isabellehungryghost February 13th, 2012 3:01 PM

    wow. this incredible change youve made. this is just unbelievable.

  • Johann7 February 13th, 2012 3:05 PM

    Awesome personal narrative! Speaking out about this stuff is so important, especially since people who are Othered can feel like they are alone, while people speaking out about their own experiences exposes patterns that show what this really is: systemic racism (the value of the “Things [blank] say to [blank]” videos that do have value). I think it’s also really valuable for people in privileged positions to hear about these experiences, as many people who are casually racist/ethnocentrist don’t necessarily realize it and really don’t want to be – these kinds of narratives can help open their eyes to how their actions affect other people and make them aware of their privilege if they’re blind to it.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:50 AM

      Yes, I totally agree. One of the most sinister aspects of racism is that so much of it can be casual or that we’ve gotten to a point where we equate being racist with basically being a horrible human being who is intentionally cruel and hateful. Most people are not at all intentionally cruel or hateful but just thinking you are a good person does not absolve anyone from learning about what privilege is and how it can be wielded without knowing it, and how hurtful things can come out of our mouths or come through in our actions without intending to.

  • Abraham February 13th, 2012 3:38 PM

    I grew up as a white girl international student in Japan and China. While I wouldn’t say I was exactly subject to racism….I was definitely “other” and I still equate myself to “otherness” in almost every single group setting i find myself in. On the one hand, your example, and on the …other… mine… wanting to be japanese or chinese and not an oafish athletic flat chested bleach blonde. I still feel gigantic and now I live in Seattle, have graduated from college and am dating a guy who is 6’5.

    so who knows. I recently visited Vancouver and felt stupid white and outta place… though I hear racism aimed at the large asian population in vancouver is a prevalent and poisonous undercurrent.

    again, who knows. these are just some observations gleaned from my life of fuck-all.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:48 AM

      Thank you for your observations! They are super interesting and, of course, super valid as well.

  • JJFRENCHANDTHEQUEENS February 14th, 2012 1:09 AM

    Jenny, thanks so much for writing this. Being Chinese myself, I could relate to the desperation of wanting to fit in. When I was younger, I hated myself for being Asian and not being as pretty as all the other white girls. Two years ago I also proceeded to tell everyone that I was actually half-Caucasian and half Chinese. It didn’t go so well, and now I’m still learning to just learn to live in my own skin.
    Btw I LOVE your stories, you are an amazing writer!

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:52 AM

      Thank you so much! When I was in elementary school I wrote a rip-off of Sweet Valley High meets the Babysitters’ Club that featured a protagonist who was half-Chinese, half-white and also adopted by white parents. I wonder if that was part of the racism I had internalized and I’m so grateful that I no longer feel like I need to make my fictional characters white or part-white to feel like they are worthy or valid. xx

  • nukanell February 14th, 2012 1:40 AM

    You are super great. I’m 16, Chinese and live in Australia. Racism was worse when I was younger, and I rarely encounter it now. But it never totally goes away. Even today at school I walked past the Chinese boarding students and they were speaking Mandarin, and my friend said to me “Ugh, speak English.” I really was stunned that she could say that to me, even if it wasn’t directed at me. Like, that could just as easily be me.

    • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:54 AM

      I know just what you mean! Recently when I was in Shanghai, a friend of a friend was complaining about how all Chinese women are materialistic and shallow and don’t “think for themselves,” and there I was a Chinese woman sitting there and thinking exactly the same thought as you thought, like “gosh, I’m sitting right here. You could be saying this about me, too.”

  • Jenny February 14th, 2012 1:55 AM

    Thank you everyone for sharing your experiences here! I am not happy that any of us have to go through these experiences, but I am happy that we have a safe space here to share them with each other.

  • Sky February 14th, 2012 8:21 AM

    I am 14, Japanese and go to an Asian International middle school in Asia.
    The majority of the kids here are Asian. The rest are Caucasian, Middle-Eastern, etc. Luckily, I (and probably most of us) don’t suffer racism like “Panese” here, but I am constantly disappointed and annoyed by so many of us making fun of ourselves for being so “Asian”.
    For example, if you were eating ramen with chopsticks, “ASIAN!” If you smiled with a peace sign, “ASIAN!” The list goes on and on.

    The racism I see here is often not very serious; we all joke around but never really you know.. use it to discriminate people. We’re all kind of making fun of ourselves, and actually having a good time. Sometimes, though, it can get very tiring to be labled “Asian” for every single little thing you do.

    I wish we could not live by the labels and stereotypes that try to categorize and suffocate so many of us, and instead be recognized for who we really are.

    I believe we are more than just “ASIAN”, “BLACK”, or “WHITE”. Or “dork”, “s*ut”- anything that society categorizes us in.

    I am proud to be Asian, and sometimes it is fun to just laugh at ourselves for what we really do, but I have to keep in mind that stereotypes are often deceiving and untrue.

    Oh my god, I’m really sorry that my opinion is so disorganized.
    I just wanted to say, thank you for being courageous and writing about your experience. It speaks to SO many people. Thank you.

  • MissKnowItAll February 14th, 2012 8:40 PM

    Love the Fact that Jenny took time to respond to all these comments.

  • myfaultedstars February 15th, 2012 8:30 PM

    I am white and have lived in the US my entire life and I have still experienced racism aimed at me. It really sucks because people call it reverse racism and act like it isn’t real or a problem. I am white, whites are the racists, who am I to say anything to the contrary. It makes me angry that you wanted to look like someone like me because it does not make the problem go away, it just makes people ignore it. Being white does not guarantee a hate free life.

  • stellar February 17th, 2012 2:22 AM

    how about “that’s a presumptuous question/statement”…because it is!!
    if there’s anything prejudiced people ‘need to know’, it’s that they are ignorant.

  • Billy February 17th, 2012 5:54 AM

    This was truly amazing. your writing is really captivating i almost felt like crying while reading it because i was just reminded of how fucking horrible middle school was..I am from Queens New York as well and went to a school exactly like you described. With a melting pot of immigrant children and a shitty neighborhood. But before that I lived in Jamaica Queens which is predominately a black neighborhood… i was 1 of maybe 7 non black students in the entire school. There was never a day when I wasn’t made fun of, looked at weirdly, or accused of being a bitch simply because I looked different. because i was “white” even though I’m hispanic. Everyone would tell me I was lying about being puerto rican because i was too pale and didn’t “speak” like I was puerto rican. One of the students threatened to kill me and on my last day at the school before i moved i was almost robbed by a gang of 6 people before i ran back into the school and called my dad to pick me up. I lost myself those years and didn’t really grow as a person until later because I was too busy hiding and trying not to get beaten up for looking or acting different.

  • backyardvoodoo February 23rd, 2012 5:53 PM

    Wow this is one of the best articles I’ve read here….. Thanks for shedding light on this subject Jenny.

  • Yojez February 27th, 2012 10:01 PM

    My 7th grade was just like your story (although nothing overtly horrible happened to me, thank god) only the other side of the mirror, so to speak. My dad is from Argentina, so technically I’m hispanic, but he’s one of those european looking hispanic people (people from Argentina generally are) and I’m as white looking as they come. I lived in Miami and during 7th grade I went to a public school where 99% of the population was either black or hispanic. Nobody really made fun of me, thank god, but I was referred to as “white girl” all the time and oh, how shitty it made me feel. I remember wishing so hard that I could look like them.

  • onetoughcookie March 8th, 2012 5:31 PM

    I really respect this article and what you have gone through, however I did not enjoy the style of writing and found the crude language overshadowed the purer meaning

  • biancacasablanca March 30th, 2012 1:28 AM

    Thank you for your (I THINK IT WAS ARTICULATE AND INTERESTING AND CRAFTY) writing about some of your experiences with internalized and systemic racism. Many parts of your piece resonated with me and my experience of feeling so alienated from extended family, hardly any tie or pride in being biracial (hispanic and asian), and severely lacking role models that affirmed my diversity. I’m still working through varying levels of how I’ve internalized feeling “other,” and my own prejudices and biases regarding other oppressive “norms” and dominant identities, since I’m not only a biracial, first generation woman of color but I’m also very middle-class, white culture, academia assimilated, cis-gendered, able bodied, etcetera. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and your narrative is so heartfelt while also genuinely crass-funny at moments (which I found great and affecting too). Thank you!

  • stellar April 2nd, 2012 12:18 PM

    why not ask *them* a question when this happens, to put the focus back on *them*, and the responsibility for this behavior back where it belongs: “why do u think this way?”, even “u need to change your way of thinking!”

  • stellar April 2nd, 2012 12:19 PM

    it’s ultimately dehumanizing to be typecast; it’s outrageous when those who indulge in this ignorance (they literally ignore what they are saying to you) try to make *u* feel ‘bad’ for mentioning what they just did to get out of being responsible for their attitude and behavior.
    they don’t want to admit that what is in front of them defies their ready-made prejudices.
    great suggestions about the “bitchface” and “really” responses. it really is that absurd!
    what blows me away is that u can be ‘known’ by a person for a long time, and suddenly they come out with an ‘incredulous’ remark like “i’m just being charitable” (said after many years of not even behaving like a “victim”–laughing and living like a whole human being if u happen to have even a teeny disability) and then acting as tho they have ‘done u a favor’ by being their “friend” who ‘tolerates’ how u are!
    maybe a good way of checking out whether a relationship is worth the investment of trust is to ask *them* questions: “why do u think that way?” “where did u get this attitude”?
    even “u need to change your way of thinking”!
    speak up about what the *real*, underlying problem with *them* is instead of passively ‘taking the bait’!

  • sarahisoverthere April 3rd, 2012 1:36 AM

    Thank you so much for this article. I could really relate to the whole both sides of the spectrum but I wasn’t in any situation so extreme. It’s really shocking and pretty disgusting how people just don’t realize how they can make someone feel so alienated.
    I was never so blatantly bullied for my race, but I remember being in elementary school and thinking “things would be easier if I were white like my friends.” And when prompted by a teacher’s writing assignment with “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?” everyone seemed to chose bad habits and such while I wanted to change my eyes to being rounder, bigger, and bluer. And in middle school, I went from being ashamed of being Asian to being all high and mighty for being more ~cultured~ (even though I wasn’t fluent with Chinese and so I felt ashamed for not being a good enough Asian.) I could never win or fit in.
    Thankfully I go to a high school now that is made up of more individuals and scholarly types (okay, hipsters and nerds), and quite a large Asian community! I think people are becoming more educated and accepting. And the fact I stopped focusing on just one facet of myself and started just being myself probably helps too.

  • clady April 4th, 2012 5:01 AM

    this is the best article i have ever seen! amazing writing. thanks rookie, its very helpful :)
    theculunlady.blogspot.com

  • EqualDemise731 March 28th, 2013 10:24 PM

    This is so amazing. I’ve never really had a problem with racism because I go to a school where its 98% native american, full blooded or half, and only a several white kids. Imagining this actually happening, it must’ve been so hard to deal with!