Category Archives: Asian American

Fly

By Ritika Rawat, age 9, New Jersey

I wish I could fly away,

And the universe will lead me to the way.

I wish I could soar up in the sky and fly,

oh so very high.

I want to flap my wings up to the sky,

but when I’m down my heart stings.

Up, and up I go, and my journey begins,

Everything is great and we all win.

I come down from my dreams

because not everything is what it seems.

By Ritika Rawat, will enter grade 5 this fall, Indian American, New Jersey.

My Love for Written Words

My Love for Written Words

By Mehek Azra, 15, New York

How do you survive reality? That is a question that had me pondering for years. Every individual has his/her own coping mechanism. Mine is reading. And that may sound strange but I would not survive in a world with no books. Ever since I could read, I did. Although I wasn’t much of a reader when I was younger. I mostly read the books that were required for my class. My first ever book series that I read was the Harry Potter series, which is why it will always have a special place in my heart. But it’s not just that. The Harry Potter series had introduced me to the fantasy world. It showed me a way to shift to another reality. I can never stop recommending it to others, even if fantasy isn’t their favorite genre. (Which is a sure sign of madness if you ask me.)

I don’t read classics or any educational books unless I’m required to. I mostly read fantasy. Fantasy has a lot of world building in it and I want to read books that are less likely connected to the real world. So that is an assumption people make about me when they find out that I’m a reader: I am a nerd and a gifted student. That is a misconception and a truly great one. Encountering with someone who has his or her face buried in a book may give you the wrong impression sometimes. I read for fun, not necessarily for knowledge. The knowledge I get is a bonus. If I don’t enjoy reading a book, I will most likely put it down because there are many other books that will pique my interest.

I love reading. But I never exactly understood why before. Everyone reads for a reason; whether it is for school or for personal enjoyment. If you are a reader, ask yourself what is it that you love about reading and why? Here are a few reasons that make reading fun:

  1. It is a form of escapism

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are” —Mason Cooley

When my life gets too overwhelming and insolvable, I just open a book. I let the words consume me and make me forget about reality. I love the feeling that I get when I’m so lost in a fictional world that nothing outside of it matters or makes any sense. It leaves my head in the clouds. Avoiding conflict and life problems may not be the best idea but sometimes you need to divert your mind for some temporary peace of mind. Books become my therapy, my consolation. When I read, I feel at home.

2. Problem solving skills

“The trouble with fiction is that it makes too much sense. Reality never makes sense.” —Unknown

Reading fantasy broadens my imagination. It increased my capacity of showing empathy to others. I can easily put myself in others shoes to try to understand their point of view. I became more creative for problem solving in real life. Think about it. Suppose you finish reading a murder/mystery books, you are going to grasp some concept related to conspiracy. It will then allow you to apply that in real life and maybe even solve a case. For me, it had mostly to do with how I perceive things around me. I think about all the possible solutions while I’m faced with a problem. And I am open to different ideas and I always have a hope that anything is possible.

3. Discovering yourself

“Always keep a book in case of an emergency; like a social gathering.” —Unknown

Have you ever read a book with a story that completely devoured you? Have you read a book that changed your perspective and mindset? I definitely have. In a fiction/fantasy book, we get introduced to a lot of diverse characters. Each character has different goals in life, an interesting life story and distinct personality. You may not be able to resonate with them all but sometimes you get to learn new things about yourself. I go for books with characters that are wholly different from me but sometimes I find myself discovering new passions and hobbies after reading about a character that I loved.

4. Increases vocabulary

“A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”   —Samuel Johnson

As mentioned earlier, the knowledge I get from reading is truly a bonus. However, reading has improved my writing skills by a lot. Not only can I write better, but also I can speak more fluently than I did before. Like reading, writing is also one of my hobbies. Every author has a different writing style. Some are very descriptive, some are poetic and some are more like freestyle. After reading a lot of books, I realized what kind of writing I enjoy reading the most. And that is poetic. I like it when authors use a lot of metaphors and other figurative language. I also enjoy descriptive ones. But when it comes to writing, I write mostly nonfiction prose, which is freestyle.

5. Fictional characters become my consolation

“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” —Paul Sweeney

As a person who has only a few friends, I can easily confide in fictional characters. They may be fictional but they feel real to me. Whenever I finish reading a book and put it down, I go through the “mourning” phrase. Occasionally, our brain can’t tell the difference between real and fictional people because we get so attached to them and we refuse to believe that they are imaginary. That would explain why we sometimes get the book “hangover.” We struggle to pick up another book and start reading it because our mind is still lingering in the book we just finished. The feeling of having one or more comfort characters is phenomenal. Nonetheless, the moment I realize that my love for them is trapped between pages and won’t be real, it will honestly put me in a reading slump—a book hangover.

Reading decreases stress levels and can overall make a person happy. It’s not just a lot of words clustered on a piece of paper. You will enter a whole different world. You can start dreaming again and be more compassionate. If you say you’re not a reader, you just haven’t found the right book yet.

By Mehek Azra, 15, high school sophomore, New York. She is Bengali (from Southeast Asia).

A Journey Behind the Walls

City by Eileen Kim, age 17, South Korea
Bird by Eileen Kim, age 17, South Korea
Cheetah by Eileen Kim, age 17, South Korea

A Journey Behind Walls

In recent years, the search for graffiti has taken up a big portion of my time. Within the monotony of my school routine, finding tags and art hidden in building corners or behind walls was akin to a treasure hunt. I have often taken pictures of the latest artworks I found and saved them in my photo album as if they were pieces of a collection. As an artist, I feel inspired to create my own signature style and to learn more about the interesting world of graffiti.

But, growing up in South Korea has reminded me of the impermanence of the culture here. I’ve often observed buildings being demolished and supplanted by newer, shinier structures. Stores I would visit frequently would suddenly close down, and the art that I once cherished would no longer exist. It’s unfortunate that we are so busy moving forward at a fast pace that we can’t appreciate the creations around us. Society doesn’t provide ideal conditions for graffiti in terms of conservation.

On top of the ever-changing nature of Korean street art, COVID-19 has made it even more challenging to explore as frequently as I had in the past. However, last month, I found the perfect opportunity to revisit the childlike wonder I have felt while observing graffiti. While browsing the internet, I came across tickets for URBAN BREAK Art Asia, a three-day fair showcasing street artists.

At the fair, it was almost as if time suspended, and the pandemic didn’t exist. I was surprised to see that people from all walks of life came to see the show, from teenagers donning denim bucket hats to older professionals in their weekend attire. Despite everyone wearing masks, the individuality was compelling and echoed Korean life exactly as it is—one of constant sounds, smells, and colors intermingling. The exhibit echoed the cacophony that citizens experience in their daily routine. I distinctly remember one artist playing the piano in his booth, surrounded by paintings of traditional Korean houses. Meanwhile, an underground rapper signed autographs for his fans a few booths down.

There were numerous exhilarating artists that caught my attention, but the one who stood out the most to me, personally, was a female artist named Junkhouse. Toward the end of the show, I recognized a familiar artwork hers that I’ve seen numerous times on a building during my walks home from school. Luckily, I was able to contact Junkhouse after the show, and she was more than happy to share her thought processes with me.

As Junkhouse compared graffiti in Korea to that in foreign countries, she confirmed that South Korea’s tendency of getting rid of old buildings rapidly prevents street artists from experimenting with their artwork and freely using the city as their own sketchbooks. Furthermore, with the law being strict in terms of interfering with property, young artists move further away from the traditional street art culture. Younger generation artists would rather choose social media as a way of presenting their work and connecting to the greater public.

As she spoke of her free-spirited artistic process, where she draws organic shapes onto existing structures, my mind kept going back to a recurring thought: there is always room for freedom within constraint. There exists a certain, and often justified, stereotype of Korean art as being highly elite and institutionalized. Proprietary gallery owners are often part of a closeted establishment that promote lucrative art forms, such as porcelain from the Goryeo Dynasty or paintings by artists within their inner circles. But unlike traditional art galleries holding the key to the next generation of artists, some people are ready to break the mold and directly communicate with the audience themselves—even teenagers like me.

As I reflected on my own conversation with Junkhouse and on the vibrancy of the works at the art fair, I felt encouraged to challenge my own perceptions. In a rapidly modernizing country like Korea, what would finally allow graffiti art to soar to its highest potential? As for me, what are some preconceived notions and existing barriers that prevent me from reaching my maximum potential?

The answers to both questions are yet to be found, but I am slowly on my way to discovering them. In the meantime, I have added forty new pieces of art to my virtual graffiti collection, which I can browse freely from home. These pieces serve as a reminder to seek freedom even amidst the busy days that lie ahead.

By Eileen Kim, age 17, high school junior in Seoul, South Korea. She adds:

“I am an active artist and writer who enjoys learning about the intersection of culture and the environment. Born in the United States but raised in Korea, I am a bilingual Korean and English speaker with the privilege of examining different perspectives. My interest in environmental conservation, particularly in reducing the use of plastic, has led me on many exciting journeys. Recently, using my art skills, knowledge, and love for the environment, I designed environmentally friendly, reusable masks. My ultimate goal is to create a sustainable system for the future in populated cities, such as Seoul and New York. 

As an artist, I am also highly invested in the emergence of street art. In search of works from creative peers my age, I came across your magazine and felt the courage to submit some of my works. “A Journey Behind the Walls” details the street art culture in South Korea and how our strict society has led to a creative underground movement. Though street art is forced to take on a more limited form in Korea compared to other cities like New York or London, it is surprisingly pervasive and thought provoking.

I have also attached my original artworks, “Bird,” “City,’ “Cheetah,” and “Venus.” The recurring theme of these works is the impact of the climate crisis on the ecosystem, from animals and humans to the environment itself. My essay and art attempts to relate to the universal longing of community, freedom and change.”

I’m a Young African Elephant Calf

Illustration and flash fiction by Alina Yuan, 17, California.

This season, it is unusually hot. The heat of the African savanna radiates off the parched land and burns my feet with each step while the sun glares down upon us, sneering at our misfortunes. I slowly drag my feet through the dirt, feeling not soreness but numbness. Small fissures have appeared across the arid landscape. I flick my tail to shoo away pesky flies. A slight breeze blows through the landscape, flinging dust into my eyes and nostrils. But I am too tired to shake off the dust. I have gone days without food or water. My eyelids droop as a hazy feeling overpowers my senses and a dull buzzing noise echoes in my head. One of our pack buddies collapses ahead of me, breathing heavily and closing his eyes. Immediately, mosquitos start to swarm him until he takes his shaky, final breath. At this rate, I will die soon, too.

Our pack shuffles sluggishly towards a large puddle left over from the rainy season. Everyone gulps the water greedily. It is the dry season and we must keep ourselves hydrated during the drought. After drinking water, I use my trunk to pull off the leaves and twigs of an uprooted tree, and I eat with Mother and my cousins. The rest of my family stays close by, eating and keeping watch for predators. We continue our journey and trudge towards a patch of trees. After a while, I look up. The sun is starting to set, and I can sense the temperature dropping quickly.

I hear a slight rustle behind the bushes. I see a head, a human. It is carrying a long stick in its hands. It points it at our pack slowly and waits. We immediately become silent, and I turn to Mother.

“What is it doing?”

“Hush,” she says quietly, her voice trembling.

She pushes me roughly into the middle of the pack and blocks me from the human’s sight with her body.

“Is this what killed Father before I was born?” I whisper. “I’m scared.”

Mother turns to me. Her eyes soften, but I can still see her pupils shaking. She caresses my face with her trunk.

“It’s going to be alright.”

The human stands up slowly, making sure to barely make a sound. I see a piece of tusk hanging from a strand around its neck. Sheer fright envelopes me. It moves its finger.

A deafening noise startles me, and I freeze in terror. My pack scatters, frantically trying to escape. One of them falls, but I don’t know who. The human puts something back into the stick and aims again. Another blast. I turn around and run as fast as I can. More fall. My vision blurs, and I search frantically for Mother, turning in circles, bugling in panic. The screams of my brethren are muffled and drowned out by my violent heartbeat. The human appears in front of me, shooting at my relatives beside me. I scream and turn around to face the body of my dead Mother.

By Alina Yuan, 17, California. She adds: “I enjoy writing flash fiction and short stories, as well as drawing comics. At home, I love playing with my dog, a Shiba Inu, and collecting an eclectic array of stickers.

I am of Chinese cultural background, but I always enjoy learning about other cultures and issues around the world. One day, while scrolling through social media, I stumbled upon a picture of poachers hunting elephants for the illegal ivory trade. I was so appalled by that image that it stuck with me and prompted me to create art and writing revolving around this topic. Learning about cultures requires you to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and the same can be said for learning about world issues. Remove yourself from the perspective of a human being and put yourself in the shoes of the oppressed in order to learn more and practice empathy. That is how the world can progress and rid itself of evil.”

Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) New Year

Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) New Year

By Seja Kularatna, Age 10, Wisconsin.

Hi my name is Seja. I am 10 years old, I live in Wisconsin, and my parents are originally from Sri Lanka. I will tell you about the Sri Lankan New Year. Sinhalese New Year, called Aluth Avurudda in Sri Lanka, is celebrated on April 13th or 14th each year.

Sri Lanka is an island country that is just south of India. The temperature is always warm in Sri Lanka.

This year, the Sri Lankan New Year is on April 14th. Before this special day, people make preparations that include cleaning and redecorating our houses, making of Kevum (our traditional sweets) and Kiribath (milk rice) and engaging in religious observances.

Every year, here in the United States, we have a Sri Lankan New Year Celebration with friends and family. We have lots of yummy dishes, games, and entertainment.

Ladies wear Sarees and the girls wear Lama Sarees. Lama means kids in Sinhalese, so they wear kid’s versions of the Sarees. The men and boys wear traditional clothing. They have long sleeved shirts and sarongs. Sarongs are like long skirts for boys and men. The kids wear their white clothing to sing the Sri Lankan National Anthem.

For the New Year celebration, the kids perform dances or sing Sinhalese songs. Our parents begin training us a few months prior to the celebration. Usually, we do group dances with other kids, so we go to each other’s homes to practice. The parents make our dance costumes.

On the Sri Lankan New Year, there are different types of food. Lots of people like to make something at home and bring it to share. We usually eat rice with other side dishes, and when we’re done, we eat sweets.

The adults plan games for the kids. We usually play games like Tug of War, Draw the Eye on the Donkey, Musical Chairs, and more.

The Sri Lankan New Year is an occasion to pay homage to our elders and receive their blessings, to renew our relations with friends and relatives. It is time for great fun and enjoyment for the kids. My favorite part is practicing the dances with our costumes and props.

By Seja Kularatna, Age 10, Wisconsin.

Early Bilingual Education

Taking it One Baby Step at a Time:  Why We Need Early Bilingual Education

By Michelle Lo, 17, New York.

If you’re like any typical American high school student, this is how your language-learning journey will go: you spend three years blazing through vocabulary and learning all of the tenses, grammar, and tones of the language, only to forget everything that you’ve learned by the time you’ve graduated (except for maybe how to ask to use the bathroom or where the library is).

Meanwhile, with the rise of globalization over the last century, bilingualism and multilingualism have become some of the most important skills to have as an individual. Some of the many benefits to bilingualism include a communication advantage in the world’s competitive job market, the ability to communicate and connect with people from a variety of social settings, and a wider global perspective. So, if being bilingual or multilingual is that important, how might we improve the way we teach language such that our students can actually become fluent in them?

The solution, as simple as it may be, is to have our students start early.

One of the clearest benefits to learning a new language early is that the younger you are, the easier it is to pick up the language. In a linguistic study done by a research team from Boston-based universities, researchers aimed to pinpoint the age at which our ability to learn a new language disappears through a short online grammar quiz. Individuals were asked about their age, language proficiency, and time studying English. The study concluded that children up to the age of 18 are proficient at learning a new language, while children up to the age of 10 can achieve the level of grammatical fluency of a native speaker. There are many reasons why children generally have an easier time learning a new language. Younger children are less fearful of making mistakes than adults and teenagers, a hurdle that one must overcome in learning a new language. Certain brain structures in children also make this process of language learning easier. One study conducted by researchers at UCLA observed rapid growth in the parts of the brain that are responsible for developing language skills between the ages 6 and 13, but a sharp decline in growth after age 13.

Contrary to what some may believe about bilingualism, learning a second language during a person’s most formative years will not affect their ability to speak their primary one nor will it confuse a child. As a matter of fact, numerous scientific studies have concluded that being multilingual can offer numerous cognitive and intellectual benefits for children. A 2004 study by psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee found that the brains of bilingual children had better executive functioning than those of their monolingual peers. This meant that bilingual children were better at planning, solving problems, etc., which stemmed from their ability to switch from one language to the other. Various studies have also proven that bilingualism can lead to higher intellectual performance and higher creativity.

Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting early language learning, the U.S. is falling significantly behind other countries in foreign language learning. As the American Councils for International Education reported in 2017, out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, only 20% of K-12 students are enrolled in foreign language classes, compared to the European median average of 92% thanks to the national-level mandates for foreign language education. In addition, many European students begin to take foreign language classes from the ages 6 to 9, whereas most American students begin in their high school years. Unlike many European nations, many states lack requirements regarding foreign language education or the age at which students should start in place, causing more lag for American students.

In order to make up for this lag, we need to start taking steps in emphasizing foreign language education, beginning in early childhood. That could mean implementing a more standardized system in the state where all students can begin to get some exposure to foreign languages from kindergarten. We could also expand dual language programs, one of the many great ways early childhood foreign language education can tap into a child’s language learning potential. Although dual language programs vary in form, most are designed to teach students in two languages in order to foster bilingualism and biliteracy. Usually, one half of the instructional day is taught in a foreign language and the other half in English. Many of these dual language classes are immersive. For example, children are encouraged to learn through play, song, and social interactions with their peers, which, over time, can help to foster their interests in learning the language and culture. These programs are great for English-learners and native English-speakers alike. For English-learning students, a bilingual classroom allows them to build friendships with their native English-speaking peers, a relationship that would not have been possible if it wasn’t for their mutual understanding of each other’s languages. For native English speakers, sharing the classroom with non-native speakers and immigrant students will help normalize the diversity in languages and cultures in the classroom.

If we expect our coming generations to build a future that is diverse and multicultural, we need to first construct the foundation: an improved and earlier foreign language education system for all students. Students, teachers, administrators, families, and change-makers of any form can all contribute to this cause by recognizing this need and advocating for better early bilingual education, whether that be writing to your local representatives or spreading awareness within your community. That way, we’ll just be one baby step closer to a truly globalized future.

—Michelle Lo, 16, New York. She adds: “I’m an American-born-Chinese, or ABC, that has always been interested in language and culture. Growing up, I spoke only Chinese as a young child but after rigorously studying only English during my childhood years, I lost my ability to speak Chinese. This is something that I deeply regret as I felt that it created a barrier between me and my culture. As a result, I hope to spread awareness about the importance of bilingualism in our multicultural society to prevent cases like mine from happening.”

Sources:

American Councils for International Education, 2017, The National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey Report, www.americancouncils.org/sites/default/files/FLE-report-June17.pdf.

“Benefits of Learning a Second Language at an Early Age: Ertheo Education & Sport.” Benefits of Learning a Second Language as a Child | Ertheo Education & Sport, 10 June 2020, www.ertheo.com/blog/en/learning-a-second-language/.

Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit. “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html.

Devlin, Kat. “Most European Students Are Learning a Foreign Language in School While Americans Lag.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 6 Aug. 2018, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/06/most-european-students-are-learning-a-foreign-language-in-school-while-americans-lag/.

Smith, Dana G. “At What Age Does Our Ability to Learn a New Language Like a Native Speaker Disappear?” Scientific American, Scientific American, 4 May 2018, www.scientificamerican.com/article/at-what-age-does-our-ability-to-learn-a-new-language-like-a-native-speaker-disappear/.

Talukder, Gargi, et al. “Brain Development Study May Provide Some Help for Educators.” Brain Connection, 9 Dec. 2016, brainconnection.brainhq.com/2000/09/20/brain-development-study-may-provide-some-hel

Umama, Khujista. Personal Interview. 18 Dec. 2020.

Zhang, Jingyu. Personal Interview. 16 Dec. 2020.

Our Buddhist Meditation Class

Hi my name is Seja. I am 10 years old. I live in Wisconsin, and my parents are originally from Sri Lanka. I will tell you about our meditation classes.

My meditation class is usually held once a month, on a Sunday. I get to see my family friends. The class takes place at one of the homes. A Buddhist priest comes to meditate with us and teaches us Buddha’s teachings. We call the priest a Sadhu.

When everyone arrives, we start the meditation. First, we take refuge in Buddha Dhamma Sangha. The first three lines are: “Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sam Buddhassa.” And we repeat that three times.

After that we recite the five Buddhist precepts, which are:

  • I shall not kill.
  • I shall not steal.
  • I will not be greedy for worldly pleasures.
  • I shall not lie.
  • I will not take intoxicating substances.

Then we do a compassionate meditation. To begin, we say: “May I be well, happy, and peaceful. May I be free from hostilities. May I be free from afflictions. May I be free from distress. May I be capable to overcome all the difficulties in my life. May I live happily and in peace.” We start with ourselves and then wish the same for our parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, friends, and finally, for all the living beings.

After all of that I feel relaxed, calm, and happy. The priest also asks some questions. For example, he asks us to think about other kids around the world, and how hard it is for some of them to get food, clothes, go to school, and so much more. He says that we should feel fortunate for having food, clothes, a good school, etc.

I sometimes think that since I have resources that some people don’t have access to, I should take care of what I have and not waste anything. I should be grateful and not waste what I have, and also donate and help others in need whenever possible.

The priest sometimes gives us books to read. There is one he wrote that I really like. It is called, “Why Mama wasn’t worried.” It is a great story.

After we’re done with the formal part, we serve the priest Sri Lankan food. Until he is done, us kids play a little bit. When the priest is done, we eat next, and then the adults.

When everyone is done eating, the parents and the priest talk a little bit and then we all bow to the priest before he leaves.

This meditation class is very helpful to me. I learn a lot about many things. My favorite part of the class is serving the priest and doing the compassionate meditation.

Art and writing by Seja Kularatna, Age 10, Wisconsin.

What’s it Like to Be a Teen with Social Anxiety

By Mehek Azra, age 15, New York.

When you’re a teenager, you may find yourself worrying about how others perceive you. You are pressured to fit into several norms. There is always a right and a wrong thing to do if you want to make friends or be liked by your teachers. And all of these expectations can be extremely overwhelming, especially to a kid. But many teens grow into having social anxiety. Social anxiety is a response to trauma. And I know that the word “trauma” gets thrown around a lot but regardless of how “small” or ”big” it is, but it is still a trauma.

Some of the experiences (trauma) that often lead to social anxiety are: being bullied, being humiliated in a social situation, or being pressured to participate in class. But the sad reality is, that society acts blind when it comes to teenage mental health. Teens with mental illness are being neglected because they are too “young” to be facing any issue.

Teachers or parents don’t really notice when a student has social anxiety because they think they are “shy.” Being shy and having social anxiety are not the same. Shy kids can gradually come out of their shell at one point but those with social anxiety don’t. They have a constant fear of being judged harshly by others. So when they are told, “Don’t be shy! We are all here to help,” it doesn’t necessarily help.

I was generally a very quiet kid who did not speak much in school. You can also call me an introvert because that’s what I am. Being an introvert is already a stressful factor about myself that makes every day things hard, such as school. And having social anxiety, on top of that makes it even more horrifying. Since I have extreme social anxiety, I will mention some of the things that trigger my anxiety, and if you can relate to these, you may also have social anxiety.

  • 1. When a teacher randomly picks on you to read out loud, you sit there in silence and you panic. You’d rather get a zero than participate because you are afraid your classmates will secretly laugh at you.
  • 2. You’re at the mall and a group of teenagers walk by and they start laughing, and you think they are making fun of your outfit.
  • 3. Your mom asked you to make an order at McDonald’s, and you start to sweat. You plan out the conversation in your head multiple times before you actually speak because you’re scared they will judge you.
  • 4. You constantly avoid going out with people because you’re not sure they will like you.

I will share one of my own personal stories. When I was in 4th grade, one of my teachers would often call out on me during class in front of my classmates, either to read something out loud or just to participate. According to her, she was just trying to help me speak up. But she didn’t realize that she was promoting quite the opposite. It made my social anxiety worse. One time in my freshman year of high school, we had a project that we were then required to present. I kept getting anxious about it way before the due date. When it was finally my turn to present, my hands turned cold, sweating excessively. My heart was beating so fast, it seemed like it could burst out of my ribcage anytime. Although the presentation seemingly went well, it was dreadful. And that is just one of the many terrifying experiences.

If you have social anxiety, you may feel more comfortable expressing yourself through writing. You may prefer text over calls. No matter how much you love them, you are not going to respond to that FaceTime call. It gets to the edge in school, or at least it did for me. The madness about constant group work and participation made me despise school. Though classes are all online now, social anxiety does not go away. You may still be afraid to unmute yourself to answer so you just don’t join your classes anymore.

Many suggest therapy to overcome social anxiety. But not everyone has that option. So what can you do? First of all, know that nothing is wrong with you! You are not alone. Social anxiety is not always recognized or spotted easily by others. So that kid in your class who you think is confident, not afraid to speak, and answers questions effortlessly, might have a fear of social judgment. You can’t tell. Some are just better at hiding it.

One of the methods that seemed to help me with my social anxiety is self-talk. Since I am afraid to let anyone know about my issue, I became my own therapist. Talk to yourself the way you wish others would talk to you. Never disrespect yourself. Remind yourself that as much as you may think others are judging you, most of the time they are just busy with themselves. The teenagers in the mall laughed because one of their friends made a joke. That one girl laughed when you were reading out loud because she and her friend were making inside jokes that did not involve you. We stress too much about how others see us. But you need to see yourself for who you are. Be aware of your triggers. Avoid situations that will make your anxiety eat you up. You do not need to do things to please others. Use your preferred way to share your thoughts and let others know about your issue. Please pay attention to yourself!

I want to let teens like me know that they are not “weird.” They don’t need to “fit in.” I am speaking up on behalf of those who struggle to express their thoughts. And I also want teachers to be mindful of how their students are and not pressure them to do presentations. They should offer alternatives in which the students can contribute their ideas without increasing their social anxiety. I shared my thoughts but will you take them into consideration?

By Mehek Azra, 15, high school sophomore, New York. She is Bengali (from Southeast Asia).

Mrs. Anne’s Closet



By Melissa Harris, Illinois. Illustration by her daughter, Madeline Harris, age 11.

Mrs. Anne’s home was like a museum. Everything I would pick up had a story. “Where did you get this hairbrush from, Mrs. Anne?” I’d ask. 

“That was Big Mom’s, my mother, and it sat on her dresser when I was a girl,” my grandma would say. 

“And now I’m the girl,” I’d add to the story, gliding my finger across the brush that was a shade between blue and gray. 

Sometimes my grandma would let me play dress up in her closet. It was a place for dreaming with your eyes wide open. “Every dress, hat, and handbag has a past, Maddie,” she’d say. “And when the time is right, they’ll be yours to own.” She opened the door to a world of fantasy held in an armoire. 

A striped aquamarine and white dress that looked like it was made for a princess. A black dress as skinny as a water hose hung next to a red kimono, draped over other hidden treasures I couldn’t wait to discover. “I know what you’re eye’n.” Mrs. Anne observed with a smirk. I ran to yank the kimono off of the satin hanger. As Mrs. Anne helped to put it on, the phone rang. She left me to the rest and took the call in the next room. 

The kimono was so oversized that it wrapped around me twice and then some. I could hear what she’d say if she was still in the room, “Maddie, you’re swallowed in memories and love.” I beamed with honor, and recalled the stories she had told me of our heritage. Mrs. Anne was Chinese and African-American. Her mom was from Arkansas, and her dad was from Hong Kong. Somehow their paths crossed in St. Louis where they fell in love. She’d tell me stories of how I descended from two groups of people who were the first to leave genetic footprints on the world, Africa and Asia. “Being the first doesn’t prevent cruelty,” she’d say, “for both countries experienced invasion and mistreatment.” My thoughts of their story swirled in chaos, so fast that my head started to ache, twisting and turning ideas into knots. My string of thoughts collided, and when they crashed, I was no longer in Mrs. Anne’s closet. I was standing at the edge of a mountain that had to be over a thousand feet high.

I was too scared to look down at first, so I slowly stepped back until my heart no longer tried to jump out of my chest. Where was Mrs. Anne? Where was I? I needed to find a trace of something familiar. I got the nerve to look past my immediate surroundings without moving a single limb. Down below was a harbor and fishing boats with the most vivid red sails. Colors blended together like a rainbow, and I couldn’t make out the body of water in front of me. A black and blue butterfly with stripes like the royal dress in Mrs. Anne’s closet fluttered by. I followed. It led to a path that curved around the mountain, probably used like an elevator to take you up or down. I crossed over to an enormous white house in the distance. Maybe someone there could help me get back to my grandma. 

Several arched windows lined the white home. A girl who looked about my age sat under a cotton tree with a book. She didn’t move when I walked towards her, just stared like a frozen sculpture. She had eyes like my grandmother with hair cut straight as a line to her shoulders. I knelt beside her and blurted, “hi.” She hesitated, then exhaled a sigh. I extended my finger towards the house. “Do you live there?” “Lin,” she said pointing to herself. “Maddie,” I responded, imitating her movements. 

Just then, a man in a navy-blue uniform slammed the side door to exit. He didn’t look like Lin. He had red hair and skin as pale as the house he exited. After a few steps, he yelled, barmy bloke! A man in a white apron, the kind a cook wears hurried out, bowing to the soldier’s black boots. The soldier’s tirade was like the howling of a wolf, and though I couldn’t see the details of his face, I was sure it wore a glare. The same as the medals pinned to his uniform from the blazing sun. He backed the cook against the wall. When he was close enough to hover over him with a raised fist, Lin screamed, ting! Her words may have stopped the cook from harm, but the soldier’s anger turned towards us. I didn’t understand their language, but I could infer the cook’s meaning when he yelled, pao! Lin ran towards the trolley path, and I followed. In the distance I could see Lin’s destination; a trolley stopped on the side of the road to pick up passengers headed to the lower peak. Lin ran faster than anyone I had ever seen, and I couldn’t catch up. So, I stopped. I felt a tug at my left ponytail and fell back towards the force. It was the soldier. Before I could think of a plan to escape, my bottom scuffed the ground and my head followed. My thoughts began to spin again, and my eyes opened to a different setting. I was at Mrs. Anne’s. 

“You alright honey? I heard a hard thud, like you fell.” I could see the concern in Mrs. Anne’s eyes because she saw the fear in mine. I was still shaken up from the soldier and the distant land with people who seemed familiar to me.

“Did your daddy have a sister? I asked, smearing tears across my face.

“He did. Her name was Lin.” 

“I think I met her in my dream.” 

“I’m sure you did,” Mrs. Anne laughed. I didn’t care if she believed me. I was just grateful to be in her arms, swallowed in memories and love. 

Glossary:

Blue Tiger Butterfly/Tirumala limniace is found in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Its wings are black with blue markings.

Pao: (頓契, 獵契, 텝, 쒔檀, 굴텝, 텝꼍) run

Tíng: (界) stop

Victoria Peak: A hill on the western half of Hong Kong Island that rises 1,810 feet. 

Victoria Harbor: A natural landform harbor separating Hong Kong Island in the south from the Kowloon Peninsula to the north.

By Melissa Harris, multiracial (Chinese, Irish, and African American), English teacher, Illinois.

Illustration by Melissa’s daughter, Madeline Harris, a budding artist, age 11.

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Mother’s Daughter

“The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live.”  –Confucius

If Confucius was right, then my mother lived delicately, treading a tightrope as thin as the slices of her twice cooked pork.

When she ate her first American hamburger, she had complained.“Ai ya. Why is the meat so big? With a hulking piece of meat like this no wonder they all in debt. Americans cannot save.”

She told me this while I minced the pork for our dumplings and she rolled the dough. “Thinner, Jian Yang. We are not the barbaric Americans.”

She didn’t intend it, but with those words, the knife I held slashed across my life like the cuts across the pork. In that moment I told myself I am not a barbaric American because I am not an American. My narrative became a relic of my mother’s, two sides of the same page, her side’s ink still impressed on mine.

For five years after that, I remained scared of knives, and my mother cut my meat for me.

“You are what you eat.” –American proverb

“Is that dog food?”

“It can’t be, because Ling Ling doesn’t feed dogs, she eats them.”

That day I went home in tears and asked my mother to pack me a sandwich. I showed her what the pale kids kept inside of their princess lunchboxes—spongy white bread around ham and cheese, a cereal bar, an apple.

“Ah yes, I make for you.”

The next day I found a pork bun in my backpack. I held the baked dough and took a bite. I tasted pork marinated with soy sauce and chives. As I chewed, I hoped the hujiaobing could pass off as a hamburger.

“Ling Ling is eating dog food again.”

“Does that make Ling Ling a dog?”

The day after, there was steamed bun inside my backpack with barbecue pork and black pepper. I looked once at the pearl knot before throwing out the chasiubao. I didn’t eat my lunch the day after, or the day after.

If you are what you eat, I thought, I don’t want to eat Chinese anymore.

And so my transformation began. Everyday at lunch I’d throw out the delicacy my mother had packed. Everyday at dinner I’d pick at my rice while staring at the woman across from me, pockmarked yellow on her cheeks and creased valleys in her forehead. My greatest wish was not to turn out like her.

I thought I had actualized my wish when my skin began to turn translucent from skipping meals. I thought I was becoming white. I started eating nothing altogether, and I became nothing.

Once my mother scolded me for not eating. “Jian Yang, you look like ghost. Eat your noodles and you become yellow again.”

I can’t remember most of what happened next. I remember my tongue, poised like a knife, uttering some ugly sounding words I barely understood. I remember wanting to make her bleed with my words, one cut for each bite of dog food I had endured. I remember pretending she could seep out red on a cutting board, bleeding until we were left colorless.“Chink.”

“He who takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skills of the physician.” —Chinese adage

My mother doesn’t cook anymore. Instead, she lays on a red-blanketed bamboo mat in a room brimming verdant. On her desk, an incongruous collection of terracotta cups, holding qi-rectifying rhubarb and shen-calming wolfberry.

The doctor said her condition is too fragile to eat. Strong flavors could disturb her gut, and I should instead blend basic nutrients for her to drink. I promptly replied that he was a fool.

The first time I cooked for her, she was coming back from the hospital. When I saw her, face of mountains reduced to ash, I dropped the plate. She asked what was wrong with me. I told her that my greatest wish was never to turn out like her. She told me that she had shared the same wish.

“You must turn out better than me,” she said.

We ate my meal, pork buns ribbed in ginger, in silence.

“Fashion is in Europe, living is in America, but eating is in China.”  —Chinese adage

I saw this scribbled against a dusty window to a grocery store in Chinatown. I don’t know why they say living is in America, because this country killed my mother. She died four months after the pork bun meal—inevitable, the doctor said. The nail salon she labored nine hours a day at had used illegally toxic polishes for years. While she scrubbed counters and coughed chemicals, her liver simply gave out. It was a miracle that she lived as long as she did.

My mother was a failure of an immigrant in most aspects. She stood at the Angel Island bridge seeking freedom, yet each day she beat herself an ocean back, until her vision became a mirage on the horizon. By imagining walls of white supremacy and shadowy businessmen, she trapped herself in a prison of her own making. She never found freedom because she never made it off that bridge.

I live in America, though. For lunch I go out for drinks with my roommates. We catch up on Grey’s Anatomy and someone invites me to a frat party later, which I only pretend to consider.

For dinner I stay home and cut my own meat, a piece for Brooklyn, a piece for Chinatown, for eating, for living. One piece for Jane Young, amateur journalist and cup-pong champion, one piece for Jian Yang, aspiring princess haunted by the paleness of memory. They are the decussations of a third-person America, carved apart by my mother into island pieces long before I realized that action had shattered me.

And so, I reassemble. I take the pieces, toss in a million chili peppers, and sauté in an ocean of soy sauce until they become one and the same.

By Samantha Liu, 16, New Jersey. She adds:“Mother’s Daughter” parallels my two clashing heritages. Having been raised speaking and reading Mandarin Chinese, I was expected to fulfill all the Confucius-esque dreams of my Chinese immigrant mother, whom I ended up resenting more than anything. Through the symbol of food, my story explores my struggle to reconcile these beliefs as I learned to define myself—as Chinese-American, as heterogeneous as food itself.”