Age: 16, Grade: 11
School Name: Hunter College High School, New York, NY
Educator: Daniel Mozes
The boy tells me on the Fourth of July that today and every day I must be proud. He tells me his blood is pumping red, and white, and blue. He tells me that to doubt our country, that to believe that I do not belong is shameful.
Sometimes I don’t know if the stars in my blood are white or yellow. I wish I had been able to keep both- when the bubble sheets ask me what language I learned first I tell them English and another language — when they ask what language I speak best now I say only English. I lost the melodies of Mandarin with the golden pendant I used to wear on a red string around my neck— that necklace I put on when I was two and never once took off— not to sleep, not to shower, not to dance— until the day I lost it at eleven.
The boy tells me that being in my poetry makes him uncomfortable. I tell him that every time one of my teachers confuses me with some other Chinese girl with glasses makes me uncomfortable. I tell him that living under the label of a Model Minority makes me uncomfortable, that I can’t help but only see competiton in my friends. I tell him that in elementary school wearing my red silk dress with its flowers falling down its sides and its Monkey Fist knot button on the first day of Chinese New Year was the only day of the year I felt that I should not have to be uncomfortable, but instead the stares and callow questions of boys like him made me even more so than usual.
If you will find unspoken words, false words in the shape of my eyes and the melodies of my tongue, then I will find inspiration for my spoken word in your ignorance. Today is Independence Day and so I declare myself free from the brace you place about my face, around my mouth— my blood may now pump with the white stars of your flag but it will always have once pumped underneath a golden necklace with the yellow stars of a red plain.
The Chinese character for mouth, tongue is a box. 口
The character to go back to is a box within a box. 回. 我想回家 – I want to go back home.
So to go back is a mouth within another, a tongue hidden underneath a sister.
Underneath this tongue I hide another, one that trips through the melodies of Mandarin, that argues with parents, and that over the past few years has folded within itself, mutilated itself, fallen into a state of dystrophy and brokenness. The last time I used this hidden tongue, I was in a different world, an alleged home, a country to which I have inherited loyalty and patriotism through my blood, through the upside down characters we hang on the door during the New Year, through this passed on tongue.
I want to go back home.
That was not my home. I cannot belong somewhere I don’t know how to ask for directions, somewhere I am so obviously an outsider, somewhere I’ll try to speak in songs and melodies but come out flat and sharp all at the same time.
But here, somewhere I’ve tried to call home for sixteen years, I trip on that outer tongue too. Sometimes a bit of an accent crops up out of nowhere, from the many hours I spend at home listening to accented and whole but somehow yet broken English. Sometimes I use a singular verb with a plural noun or I switch tense midsentence or I accidentally let a bit of Mandarin loose before swallowing it back down.
I want to go home – I need to go home. But when neither tongue is the true tongue when neither of these boxes fit where can I possibly call home?
给我老老打电话 – Giving my grandma a call.
你夏天打算回来吗? Are you coming back this summer? Will you come back to garlands of corn on the door and tofu breakfasts and badminton in the garden? Please come see me again. I miss you.
对不起老老. I’m so sorry Grandma. I’m not goi