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For the Love of Music

Updated: 7 days ago

“Because you’re Chinese. You don’t know anything; you probably don’t even know what the word love means.”

That’s the reason my best friend in kindergarten gave for replacing me with another girl, one who looked just like her: shiny blonde hair, large blue eyes, and fair skin.

I would like to say that I had the confidence not to believe her. I would like to say that I shot back a clever retort and enlightened them on societal issues none of us understood. I would like to say that I didn’t cry myself to sleep that night.

But I wasn’t strong enough then. Not yet.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I would spend years and years searching for that elusive strength, trying to reassure myself that I was just as good as them. That I was just as smart and pretty. That I was worthy.

In elementary school, the other children mocked my surname. They asked me if I ate dogs back in China. They sneered at the lunch my mother carefully packed me everyday until I made her replace my rice and dumplings with something more “American.” But when I proudly sat down to eat my PBJ sandwich, they snatched my pink Barbie lunchbox and kicked it down the gutter.

I wasn’t from China; I was from Austin, Texas. So although I could understand English perfectly, I couldn’t understand what they meant when they pulled their eyes up and pretended to speak broken English.

But it would be wrong to say that I didn’t have a happy childhood. For in spite of every bad thing that happened to me as a child, my family more than made up for it.

As soon as the school bell rang, I would find Mom waiting outside with a smile. She would always greet me by asking about my day, and in the hotter months she would even bring a capri sun or juice box for me. Dad always drove me to school, and when he realized the math we did in school wasn’t challenging enough, he found me practice problems from China and Singapore. And when it came to violin, both my parents went far above and beyond.

My first violin was sixteenth-sized and factory-made. I wanted to run around and play outside like my peers did, but Mom made me practice twenty minutes a day. Later, she had me practice thirty minutes, then forty-five, then an hour. Eventually, she didn’t need to say anything anymore, except to remind me to take a break every few hours and let my sore fingers rest. And as my practice time and I both grew, my parents bought me more violins, each one larger than the last: eighth, quarter, half, three-quarters.

When I was in middle school, Dad lost his job. So many other parents might have dissolved into bickering, blaming, or bitterness. So many other parents might have neglected, or even abused, their children. So many other parents might have lost everything and been thrown out of their house, driven to beg on the streets.

But not my parents.

Day and night, Dad toiled tirelessly, trying to find work, while Mom drove around selling thousands of beautiful cell phone cases, even while she was ill and pregnant with my baby sisterall so they could continue paying for my violin lessons. Sometimes, they barely slept or ate, yet even before Dad finally landed a new job, my parents bought me a new violin. Full-sized.