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Asian is Not My Brand

Updated: Mar 12

Dear Asian Youth,

It’s a compliment, I tell myself as I plaster on a thin smile in place of the small frown that twisted my lips moments before the sound of, “Of course you got a good grade, you’re Asian.”

“Of course,” my classmate tells me, spoken as if achieving good grades is expected of me, and that should be a compliment, right? Expectations are nothing new to me, and I should feel happy, even proud, to fulfill them. Yet when the word “Asian” tumbles off his tongue, it feels like a brand; it’s hot and scorching as it sears itself onto my forehead, etching itself into the soft golds and beiges of my skin. For all that it’s supposedly a compliment or a joke, it doesn’t feel quite right. It feels wrong in a way that makes my skin itch and causes my small 13-year-old fingers to grip the smooth white paper of my test hard enough to leave creases on the previously unblemished sheet.

“Duh,” I casually respond, as if my pretense at acting unbothered doesn’t dig a salt-covered palm into the burned skin of my forehead, “Asian,” no doubt still emblazoned above my narrow brows. I even laugh lightly for good measure, unknowingly leaving behind slightly larger, sharper creases into the edges of my test paper with each strained chuckle.

I am not able to put my feelings into words at the time. My brain is still too naïve, too young to understand the turmoil of emotions flitting about me. I can’t understand my hesitance at accepting the joke; after all, this too is nothing new to me. Jokes about my inherent ability to excel in math or achieve straight A’s because I’m Asian are common. What is there to be hesitant about when I fit into the Asian stereotype perfectly? I get straight A’s, I like Algebra, I cut my nails on the weekends for orchestra, and I attend bi-weekly Math Olympiad meetings. As if I’m that cheap red clay we use in art class, each passing day, I continue to mold myself to fit into their standards and image of a typical Asian.

I don’t like it.

I don’t like it because who is my classmate to decide my potential? Who is he to tell me what is expected of me?

With a shaky sigh, I glance back down at my paper. The fat red “A+” and smiley face stare back at me as if mocking the invisible word “Asian” engraved on my head.

Settling into myself takes time, and throughout this process, I am forced to endure the seemingly in