Updated: Mar 12
My mother used to tell me the story about the iron club that is sanded down to a needle –
I imagined the minuscule grains of metal
Erosion at the hands of diligence.
I imagined myself as the hands that weathered
at the iron under the sun. I wondered what I would become.
Deft enough to move mountains, or the soft golden refraction
of underwater ripples.
I was 11 when I realized that I was not the hands
smooth and steady, a work of art in its own right. I was the needle
under foreign palms. Unknowing, but meek by nature.
I recognized the silver powder that drifted down like snow
to be pieces of me. I stayed still, and in some kind of disturbed fascination,
allowed the erosion to take place.
I must admit that I was thankful to begin with,
Often shy but basked in the warmth of the words that kneaded me, unknowingly,
into the sewing pin – the industrial child intended not to be one in a million, but one of a billion
Of course you scored well, you’re Asian.
No wonder you chose maths, you’re Asian after all.
She’s creative… for a Chinese!
These were words that I accepted. In all naivety, I assumed them to be indicators
that I was – selfishly – special.
I believed myself to be in good hands – unaware of the production line I was in reality placed upon. The hands I had pictured in my childhood washed away – my own that were fumbling, small – but pouring forth with love. Gold, and a desire to be.
Some years later, I learnt to look down, kneel
and collect the metallic grains around my ankles. To recognize the elements that built my body, even after the confines of uniformity weathered away at their shells.
To relearn what it means to be – that my successes are not in spite of my Asia, nor excused
And to hold on to the parts that cannot be sanded away.
I will tell you about the things I know now.
You tried to teach me that
I am molded right
Because I am quiet. Because I did not speak for myself, because
I was the good Asian girl who listened.
That my success is to step down from the spotlight, to relish in the victory
of paler faces and to deny myself my own identity.
That my success could be equated to the satisfaction of a white audience.
I don’t deny that my nature is soft,
but you must understand
that softness has been praised through our generations for centuries.
He is our virtue of harmony, and qian is our virtue of humility.
We learn that peace with others is our greatest strength.
You see how in the process of translation, I am unfamiliar with a society where
you are unselfish becomes you are far too docile –
Because with you, peace has always come at the cost of our strength for your security.
My ancestors knew this well.
we learn that celebrating our peers before ourselves
Is not an act of surrender, but one of strength.
My softness, then, is not my subordination to you –
and never will be.
You convinced me
that my race is defined by the industrial, the meticulous.
That hard work was a genetic attribute,
and the fruits of your labor were bloody fought with sweat and tears
while mine were privileges of inheritance, undeserving.
After all, sewing pins were made to sew.
My grandfather is the one who taught me
qin – our virtue of diligence.
This is the same diligence that ground the club down to a needle,
and the same diligence with which I am now picking up the dust
and reassembling them
into their rightful places.
A year’s harvest counts on spring, but a girl’s success counts on her perseverance
is what he said to me in the autumn years of his life.
When I study late into the night, I remind myself that as the seasons come and go,
I will inevitably fail – as a constant of living.
it is the picture of the spring he showed me that I keep closest to my heart.
I hope you will remember that
In a system designed to maximize our potential for your gluttonous gain
while keeping us on ground zero, we continue to weather the times
not because we are content with being your sewing pins;
but because there is dignity in practicing these virtues as the end itself,
and not as a means
to winning your senseless game.
You’d like me to believe
that my oppressor is my own background.
That you, the White-Skinned Savior, preach equality for all.
You try to sand away my purpose with the the narrative
that Asian prosperity is bred from academic grooming, from the tiger parent
caricature and the robot-like dystopia you believe us to be.
You paint me as the victim of a meaningless institution
Because I brim with more vivacity than yours can sustain.
In our books, there is no virtue of
What I have always known is that of loyalty.
Loyalty does not mean yielding. It means
If you make a promise to someone, you keep it. if you give someone a dream,
you defend it till the end.
And I’ve known this since the first time I saw my uncle do wu-long dragon dance,
New Year’s Eve in my Grandmother’s hometown. Watching the colors fly and
mesmerized by the chants in
a Chinese too ancient
for me to understand.
It’s the unspoken contract in the thread that holds our bamboo zongzi tight,
the sesame oil that we use to seal dumpling dough.
My loyalty does not lie with you.
No matter how I play by your rules,
I do so because
my loyalty has always been with the dreams that
I, too, will bring to life one day.
– Lily Shen
Editors: Sandhya G., Nikki J., Zoe L., Sam L.
Cover Photo Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/177399672810760918/