Thursday, July 4, 2013

First Impressions

Growing up, I was taught to 'Never judge a book by its cover.' I bought into my parents' idealism, rooted in the Christian principle that the big G-O-D up there judged a person on the inside. Through my elementary school years, I never wore Nikes, Reeboks, or Jordans. I wore turtle necks and wool sweaters during the cold season, and multicolored boxer-like short shorts when it was hot. I remember looking in the mirror before school one morning at my Asian hair, haphazardly stuck up on the back of my head (a feature that defines my mornings to this day), complaining to my mom about how ugly and disoriented it made me look. But mom, other boys my age had straight hair. I naively believed her when she told me that my hair would straighten out by the time I went to school. I didn't get my first pair of Nikes until 7th grade, and even then, they were the $19.99 clearanced ones from JC Penny's. For the next few days, I proudly wore the brand with a huge grin on my face, as it was leaps and bounds ahead of the Payless shoes I had previously worn, until my classmates made fun of them during PE. Nice girl shoes, chink. They were purple with a flowerly design on the heel. My attempt to assimilate, as it were, miserably failed. Someone had to make the next uncoolest kid at school seem cool--You're welcome, Everett.

I'm not sure why I applied that principle to my life for as long as I did. Looking back, I was always judged by my skin color before I even uttered a single word. Because no one really listened to me, I didn't think my words mattered. I moved to Virginia Beach exactly one day before middle school started. During the first day of school, I sat alone way up in the nosebleed section during a pep assembly. Little did I know that I would be the overture to the assembly, but before the formal festivities began, a group of boys approached me, taunting me before pushing me around. Fucking chink, youse go backa to China. Ching chongy ching chong. That was the second time I cried in public, and right on cue, kids from the lower sections of the bleacher turned their heads and laughed. I remember looking at a teacher in the lower section, telekinetically crying for help, only to see a chuckle on her face. I got my ass kicked for the first time later that afternoon.

High school in the Pacific Northwest wasn't substantively different. By the time we're full-fledged adolescents, stereotypes predominantly influence how one perceives you. It became second-nature to me to live by the stereotype. In hindsight, it was the safe option, the survivalist option, not to defy it and to use it to my advantage. I got straight A's, I won the International Baccalaureate student award, I excelled in piano and violin, and I mostly kept to myself. I was the Model Minority.

Over the last few years, I've been learning to challenge and actively smash the model minority myth. I don't want to be a robot defined by the creation of a racist society. I don't want to be constrained by a label and denied opportunities to experience, to grow, to find out what I can achieve and who I could be. That is the first impression I want to leave after each new encounter.

Three years ago, I had never been around sports as a spectator, let alone playing it, but now, I coach a couple 4A high school sports. I am the only Asian who coaches boys' basketball in the conference. It's been a crazy ride from there to here and I've got quite a few stories to tell and reflections to impart.

I have never written a blog before (although I've contributed quite a few entries for other blogs), but lately I find myself drowned in many thoughts with so much to say. To all who stumble along my blog, greetings and much gratitude. This will be a regular part of my life, so I look forward to conversations to come and new people to meet.

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