When I was younger, I used to stand in front of my bathroom mirror almost every morning, studying my reflection. My small, thin fingers touched my yellow-undertoned skin and gently ran over my smooth monolids, which delicately embraced my dark brown eyes. I ran my hands through my hair, not quite brown yet not quite black. And sometimes, I’d find myself dreaming about what I would look like if I had blonde hair or a pair of coveted blue eyes many girls I knew had. Then I’d shake myself back to reality and finish getting ready for school.

I lived in a small Oklahoman town for the majority of my childhood. As a child, I never had many Asian-American peers to connect with, and as a result, never felt like I truly belonged. I became a piece of clay, constantly molded by the impossible expectations of a community that often made me feel lesser for my cultural background and Chinese heritage. I often hid my tofu stir fry lunch from my elementary school classmates who had likened its smell to that of a trash can; secretly, I’d wished that I also brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school like the rest of the kids so I’d fit in. I found myself longing for big, round double lidded eyes after some kids on the playground had pulled their eyes at me, mocking my natural eye shape. Kids would innocently chant “ching chong” at me in the halls, which at times, made me feel ashamed of being Chinese American. Little by little through the years, the pieces of myself that had conformed to what society wanted me to be became parts of myself that I’d lost. By the time I started preparing myself for high school, I’d already become unrecognizable, a girl without her authentic cultural identity, a child who no longer remembered her roots and the thousands of Chinese ancestors who’d fought wars, who’d defied all odds and who’d raged against the descending hand of famine to create an illustrious lineage, one which led to her creation.

I moved to Northern Virginia the summer before my freshman year. The racial and cultural diversity in the area that had become my new home was unparalleled to anything I could’ve imagined. I was able to interact with many different people from various backgrounds and learn about different cultures, traditions and religions. And for once, I was able to connect with other Asian American peers. Together, we uplifted each other and gave each other comfort and emotional support when COVID-19 related racial attacks began to occur in the cities. I began to truly see the beauty in my Asian physical features, my language and my heritage; I began to love myself for who I was instead of feeling obligated to hide my identity like I’d done so when I was younger.

Still, though my new home was no short of cultural and racial diversity, I was not immune to racist comments and actions within the school community. In the hallways, a student called me a “chink”, attempting to reduce me to nothing but an individual he can freely hurl racial slurs at. When COVID-19 spiked globally, many students joked that I probably “ate bats for dinner” and that my family and relatives carried COVID-19 just because they were Chinese. There was no shortage of “ching chong” chants and eye-pulling.

By this time however, I was no longer molded by society. After years of learning to appreciate and love my cultural heritage, I became the potter that molded my own clay. I held the power to my identity and refused to let society dictate who I should be. Most importantly, I did not stay silent in the face of racial discrimination and racially motivated attacks against Asians. I spoke my mind and fearlessly shared my experiences and the raw anger I felt seeing so many Asian brothers and sisters being attacked or discriminated against because of our skin color. I spoke up at my high school’s town hall meeting regarding race, pushing the school administration to take action against racist behaviors demonstrated within the school. I leaned on and shared my sorrow with my Asian American peers after seeing so many members of the Asian community being hurt, beat up and killed in broad daylight just because they were Asian.

Society constantly tries to fit Asian Americans in this stereotypical mold, assuming that all of us are quiet, shy, obedient and not looking for trouble. But that is not us. Our ancestors held the flaming fury of dragons from Chinese legends that powered them through all the challenges they’d faced in their time. The same blood that coursed through them now courses through each of our bodies, enabling us to power through all the struggles we would face as Asian Americans in modern society. It is only up to us to harness the power that we’ve been given to fight together against the forces that come against us.

5 thoughts on “Reflections on Growing Up Through Monolid Eyes”
  1. I’m surprised this essay doesn’t have any comments yet- it’s really good.

    When I first read it top to bottom, I was in awe. I went, “I want to be like this. This is the person who I want to be like.”

    Not only is the essay itself, as an essay, amazing, but it’s also super impactful, something I value in writing. Even though my experiences haven’t been as harsh as yours, I can see myself in your shoes. I can feel the embarrassment, shame, and envy that’s written in this very text. I can see what you’ve seen, and my heart aches at those experiences I see.

    But I can see the hope in this essay, too. I know not everything is perfect right now, but you give a ray of hope and light. When I first read this, I had been confused at the time. I thought this essay was going to be confessions of being bulled and being ashamed of the Asian culture, and that was it. I was wrong. It’s a really strong essay, and you’re a really strong you. I’m glad you became “the potter that molded [your] own clay”!

    So, I just wanted to say: thank you!

  2. “By this time however, I was no longer molded by society. After years of learning to appreciate and love my cultural heritage, I became the potter that molded my own clay.” Amazing story! So proud of you 👍

  3. Enjoyed reading this essay – You have a powerful voice, your story was so authentic and emotional. I hope that you continue to use your voice to inspire change in our communities. Well Done!

  4. This is one of the only essays that truly hit home for me. It is not only relatable towards me but I can safely say that it is for other asians as well. I can tell you have a passion for advocating your voice!

  5. Wow, I am speechless. Your story is so moving and inspirational. I am so happy and proud of you for going through this journey of self-acceptance. Simply wonderful writing.

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