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Hathaway, May, a series of misnomers


May Hathaway
Age: 16, Grade: 11

School Name: Stuyvesant High School, New York, NY
Educator: Amara Thomas

Category: Poetry

a series of misnomers

I. halfie

He gives me the gift of a social identifier
in my first week of high school
(pretty boy, pretty smile).
“Oh, your mom is Chinese?”
I smile nervously because I don’t
know where this is going.
“You’re a halfie, then. Me too.”
The word is cute in his mouth but
my eyebrows crinkle involutnarily
when he collapses
everything: identity, culture, language,
family, ethnicity, race
into a two-syllable diminutive.
(We stop talking after a week, he transfers 
the following year).

II. hybrid

My father takes me to the car dealership on my day off. My father cracks the windows while he drives and my sweater is too thin and I don’t complain. My father looks at convertibles and pick-up trucks and hybrids and at this last one, he points and says, “Just like you.” My father stares at me curiously when I don’t laugh. My father drives us home in my mother’s car and I lean my head against the window.

III. multiracial

The PSAT asks for my race: am I
“two or more of the above” /

It feels brash / audacious / impertinent / all of the above
to call myself “multiracial” when
“multi” means “many” and I only
have two, 

and as much as I like having a bubble to fill,
I wish it fit me better.

IV. hun xue’er

“Do they have a name for
people like you in English?” my cousin asks 
when I return to the motherland in the summer.
“No, they don’t,” I tell him, my throat hoarse. “They 
don’t.” His face scrunches 
like a sponge. “We have a name here, 
you know. Hun xue’er.” 

hun – mixed, dirty, impure.
xue – blood.
er – child.

“Yes, I know.” I force a smile,
lie down, citing jet lag.