Live Through This

Odd Girl In

My lifelong commitment to my own individuality rendered me incapable of being part of something bigger than myself.

Illustration by Cynthia.

Illustration by Cynthia.

First thing in the morning, the principal came over the loudspeaker with the day’s announcements, then it was time for all of us to rise from our desks, face the flag, put our right hands over our hearts, and say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Amen.”

But I didn’t want to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn’t feel an allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I didn’t know why I had to say “one nation under God” when I didn’t even believe in God, and most of the people I loved didn’t believe in God, and I wasn’t even a citizen in this nation yet—not on paper, and not when I walked down the street with my friends who looked like me. I didn’t see justice or liberty in the low-income neighborhood I lived in or in the single family house we were lucky enough to share with two other families. Other people on our block had it much worse. All of them were immigrants from China or Korea or Latin America, or they were black. Sometimes I’d go into a 7-Eleven and the dude behind the counter would actually shake his head and say to another clerk, “Look at how many of them there are now. They should all go back to where they came from.” Whenever we’d have to go to the immigration office, we were made to feel diseased, like we were a scourge on this great country.

But what was so great about it? A woman we shared our house with was robbed at gunpoint on her way home from one of her three jobs. Within months of immigrating here, my uncle, while delivering Chinese food one night, was beaten in an alley by six men. My mother lost three of her fingers working (without papers) as a seamstress in the Garment District and had to beg a doctor in the emergency room to reattach them. Everyone around me was suffering like we were, and none of us seemed to reap anything for the trouble except for being blamed for all of this country’s problems.

Why would I pledge my allegiance to a place like that? The only reason I saw to recite the Pledge with the rest of my class was so I could lower my hand to check if my tiny baby breasts were growing at all, so while everyone else was dutifully reciting it, I started mouthing other words: “I pledge allegiance to my itty bitty titties of the United Fakes of America, and to the RePOObics for which it stands, one fart after another, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. A-women.”

The summer after ninth grade, I went on a cruise to Canada to with my family and a bunch of our friends: 20 kids and 20 parents and 4 grandparents, all Chinese. Most of us had known one another for more than a decade. I was the oldest of the kids, and I had watched them all grow up like the adults had watched me. We were as close as a group of families could be.

I was going through some sort of “phase,” according to the other parents, because I had dyed my hair burgundy with purple undertones and cut it short and sprayed sugar water on it so it was spiky and stiff. My mom and I got into a couple of fights on that cruise because the other moms kept remarking on my hair. At one point, one of them said I looked “unnatural.” My mom was pissed that I tried so hard to stand out.

“Why are you the only one to do this,” she kept asking me.

The adults had a script about us, and it went like this: “They just want to listen to ‘Mambo #5,’” or “They don’t like the Gap anymore, now they all want you to buy them Abercrombie and Fitch.” But I wanted to listen to the Bouncing Souls and Kid Dynamite, and I cut school to take a bus to Queens and the subway into Manhattan to wander around the East Village looking for a vintage store that I had read about in CMJ New Music Monthly. I resented being lumped in with all the other kids. The way we had to do every activity together made me feel like I was in prison. I took to literally running away from the dinner table and finding somewhere to hide until I had to be “one of them” again. I wasn’t even sure if “them” else was a cohesive category; I just knew I couldn’t be part of it.

My high school had a big pep rally every year that everyone was required to attend, and it seemed like my eighth period physics teacher and I were the only ones who found it outrageous that classes were being canceled for sports. I had zero school spirit. I hated competitive sports. I hated competition. I hated shit-talking and the way people actually cared about winning and how arbitrary it was to root for a sports team just because that team happened to be from the town you lived in or the school you went to.

I hated my classmates, too—actually hated them. They would pull their eyelids back in greeting whenever they saw me. They would come up behind my friends and grope their asses as a “joke,” but when one of my friends complained about it to the principal, suddenly our classmates were the ones who couldn’t take a joke. They laughed when our 77-year-old math teacher fell off her desk, and not a single one of them got up to help. They made jokes about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and called me a Jap because “you’re all the same.” I also hated the teachers who loved my classmates and who witnessed their rape jokes and racist comments and bullying and didn’t say anything, and in fact validated and encouraged this kind of behavior and maybe found it funny.

In light of all this, how could I be expected to root for my school to win some football game? When the pep rally was about to start, I attempted to duck into the girls’ bathroom to read a book I had checked out from the library. But as soon as I shut the bathroom door behind me, in walked one of my teachers. I was busted.

“Everyone thinks to themselves, I can’t wait to get out of here,” she lectured me. “But you know what? You’re all coming back here. I did the going-away-to-college thing, and I came right back here to get married and raise my kids. And so will you.” But I wasn’t even from that town. I never really belonged there, and I never would. Then she told me that if I didn’t attend the pep rally, she would put me in detention.

I sat woodenly on the bleachers with my arms crossed, refusing to chant with the others. When everyone chanted, “Glen Cove, Glen Cove, Glen Cove,” I mouthed, “Fuck this, fuck this, fuck this.”

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32 Comments

  • TessAnnesley May 27th, 2014 12:41 AM

    “A-women”

    GOLD

  • maddyr May 27th, 2014 12:48 AM

    This is AMAZING, oh my goodness. Jenny, I really like your writing.

  • red flowers May 27th, 2014 1:18 AM

    I really really like this! Thanks for bringing it into my day! :)

  • clocksheep May 27th, 2014 2:38 AM

    Jenny, I’ve missed your writing for Rookie so much! This is wonderful.

  • ashmado May 27th, 2014 3:02 AM

    This is really powerful and relatable, I almost cried. Thank you so much for sharing this, it’s beautiful!

  • shelley May 27th, 2014 6:05 AM

    Just wow! That was amazing.

  • kimchi May 27th, 2014 6:41 AM

    I always love reading pieces from you Jenny. Our lives have been very different, yet I feel that I can relate your experiences with groups to my own life. In school I liked doing sports because it was a way for me to clear my head, but I never felt like I really belonged with the athletes. I was never going to care about victory as much as them. To some extent I went along with the charade, but the glitz felt meaningless. The thought of groups of people collectively caring about something meaningful felt very foreign. Even though there were many clubs for charities at my school, I found it hard to take the people in them seriously. Everyone was so worried about college applications. Even when they put on the performance of caring, few seemed to genuinely care about anyone besides themselves.

    I remember in elementary school I coughed up a ball of phlegm during the pledge of allegiance. I kept it in my mouth because I knew I wasn’t supposed to move. It was disgusting.

    I like to wear long skirts without underwear too. It is way more comfortable, and it can be very fun for the reasons you mentioned.

    http://glitterous-clitoris.blogspot.com.au/

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:06 PM

      You sound like the raddest person & yr blog is out of this world ♡

  • AnarchyAndrea May 27th, 2014 7:24 AM

    This. I’m supposed to be writing an analysis on Lord of the Flies right now but this. I have tears on my face as i write this because I understand this so well. Growing up mexican-american in a predominantly white small town which I NEVER felt a part of, I completely understand this mindset. Now that I’m going off to college in the fall I can’t begin to describe my frustration on just how to go about translating my passion for social movements, my blind desire to be an activist into a sustainable career. The end of this piece is what got me. Because as soon as I read it, all I could think of was being 9 years old, at a marching rally for immigration reform with my parents and hearing all around me, the ringing of voices resounding, “LA GENTE UNIDA JAMAS SERA VENCIDA! LA GENTE UNIDA JAMAS SERA VENCIDA!!”

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:06 PM

      I have tears in my eyes… the thought of you as a kid shouting with the adults at an immigration reform rally. That’s beautiful ♡

  • fluorescentyesterday May 27th, 2014 7:30 AM

    This was amazing to read. Thank you Jenny, your writings are always my favorites, partially because I’m half Chinese and I feel like I can identify with you in many ways (even though I’m only a high schooler).

  • i-skreeeeam May 27th, 2014 7:30 AM

    Wow jenny ive always been to shy to comment but this has really moved me .. this blew me away. IM so incredibly humbled by your honesty and rawness and talent in everything you write. I can relate to this so so much and it has inspired me in a very big way to get involved in activism. Thankyou thankyou thankyou xo

  • flocha May 27th, 2014 8:20 AM

    my god this is so beautiful. I have trouble relating to stuff and everything you wrote here perfectly describes everything I feel x

  • elliecp May 27th, 2014 8:45 AM

    this is so amazing. It just goes to show that we as individuals can change things if we put our minds to it. so inspirational to read!

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • soviet_kitsch May 27th, 2014 9:35 AM

    “You’re not touching any of my members. I’m going to get you fired for threatening a peaceful picketer. You’re a thug and a coward for intimidating someone half your size, and now you’re trying to threaten a 21-year-old woman?”

    “I was so quick to equate solidarity with intolerant jingoism, I assumed all loyalty was blind. I didn’t see, until those people were kind enough to take me in, that being part of a group could be enlightening or beautiful or good.”

    jenny, you continue to be one of my all-time favourite writers anywhere.

  • callie May 27th, 2014 10:17 AM

    THIS IS COOL
    just asking, how did you get that job? i mean im from the uk so its different but id still like to know. thanks!
    callie xoxox

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:07 PM

      I think I actually find it out on idealist.org But at least here in the US, you can just go to any union’s website and look to see if they are hiring under “Employment” or “Job Opportunities.” Labor is always hiring… so it seems.

  • Eileen May 27th, 2014 11:14 AM

    I always love what Jenny has to say. I literally wait around for a Jenny article to pop up. This was really, really cool.

  • obeykid May 27th, 2014 1:01 PM

    This is a really nice depiction of what growing up in the USA is like when you’re immigrant and kinda broke.

    I relate to this a lot. Thank you for this.

    This is great. I can’t even express very well how I feel about this except that it’s great.

    https://www.etsy.com/shop/obeykid

  • Vlada May 27th, 2014 1:24 PM

    Jenny your writing is out of this world as always.
    OMG I really enjoyed today’s articles, I feel like it was one of the best days

  • Maria Clara Santarosa May 27th, 2014 2:39 PM

    This is so good and accurate and meaningful and beautiful. Well done, Jenny. Well done.

  • doikoon May 27th, 2014 2:55 PM

    Jenny, I’m going to tell you something. One time you said something in an interview… you said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I think deep down everyone likes themselves, or else why would we keep doing it”. I Identify that and discovering rookie in general (via Rosianna on youtube) to be imperative to of getting me out of depression. Thank you :)

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:08 PM

      Wow, I kinda remember saying that, but I’m so happy you found Rookie and we found each other ♡♡♡

  • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:09 PM

    Thank you so much for your ^^ comments, it honestly makes me so happy to read em that I feel embarrassed I can’t say more!

  • blueolivia May 27th, 2014 6:25 PM

    jenny, you’re such an excellent writer. this had me breaking down with inexplicable tears at four in the afternoon.

  • spudzine May 27th, 2014 7:53 PM

    Hello! I REALLY loved this piece, because some of it mirrors how I feel about life now. I sincerely hope things get better after high school, because my peers are kind of similar to the peers described above. They don’t care about being racist and misogynistic and bullies, the people in charge of them don’t care, and I do, which makes me feel like a miser. My hope isn’t lost, though! Also, not to be disrespectful, but on the second page there seems to be an error in ‘two things I so sick of thinking about’ on the second page.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Amy Rose May 28th, 2014 1:45 AM

    i mean, holy shit

  • rahima May 28th, 2014 4:05 AM

    I love this story. It was kinda quirky and at the same time, inspiring. Sending my support from half way around the earth. Thanks for thisss <3 :)

  • avisanti May 28th, 2014 9:24 AM

    This is a great piece. I love your work, Jenny! And I’m glad you enjoyed your Pinoy breakfast. :) sending my love and support all the way from the Philippines. <3

  • gentleman honey farmer May 28th, 2014 12:16 PM

    Jenny knocks it out of the park, as always. What a remarkable human being.

  • Jes May 28th, 2014 5:59 PM

    tears

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