I was happy and excited when it came time for me to walk to school. I used to ride the bus, but didn’t like it. It was too crowded, loud, and as an introverted only-child, I was poignantly attuned to the behavior of the other kids, and my own thoughts.
For a while, my dad would drive me to school, and I enjoyed that. He taught me how to shift gears, because he’d have a cup of coffee in his hand, and would say “second gear” or “third gear”, and I felt very proud that I could do that for him. That was the closest I’ve ever been to my dad. I haven’t talked to him in years.
I was happy and excited as I walked back and forth from school. It felt like I was going on an adventure every day. I didn’t think about being a small, lonely Asian-latch-key-only-child. I had my imagination and coping mechanisms to keep me company.
Then one day a kid asked me if I knew Bruce Lee, and on another occasion some kids asked if I knew karate, and sometimes I’d hear kids making pseudo-Chinese sounds as I walked by, although I wasn’t Chinese, and the kids’ fake language wasn’t meant for me to understand anyway.
These and other instances of ignorance made me begin to see myself through the eyes of other people, and much too often I didn’t like what I saw. When I told my dad about what happened, he told me — in his imperfect English — to tell them that “I am refugee”. At the time, I didn’t think it was very good advice, or understand the significance, but now I see where’s he’s coming from, and it’s true:
I am refugee.
image credit: Luangphabang, Laos via Wikimedia