Where I reminisce on not missing high school and my life-saving discovery of the existence of racism.
17 years ago, when I was still in high school, I was terribly shy. Which meant I was terrified all of the time. Terrified of being called on by teachers (middle school in Taipei instilled that in me perfectly— even though teachers were loathe to hit me since they knew about my white dad), of getting anything below an ‘A-’, of other kids, of all the white kids, and the few black kids. I wasn’t friends with any of the Asian kids. It was all around not a great time for yours truly.
One significant experience was in junior year when I had the random fortune of being sent to a day-long Asian American conference: CAPAY (Conference for Asian Pacific American Youth). There I met more Asian American youth than I’d ever seen in my life and had the amazing opportunity to talk about our Asian American identity, the generation gap between us and our often immigrant parents, and racism — a brand new concept for me! (I had the hardest time with History in school because the textbooks and teachers just acted like racism did not exist. No wonder I had a hard time understanding the subject… )
Too bad I didn’t get to learn about sexism at that time too— would have been perfect as a young woman of color in high school and all the confusing things I saw around me: a pregnant classmate dropping out of school, people making out in the hallways (which fascinated and repulsed me both but more the latter), that weird ‘sex test’ that was smugly passed around which would score you on how sexually experienced you were (that was easy since I was a big fat zero), and just the prevalence of (male) jerks in our class— but racism was a good start. It helped loads with my self-esteem and self-confidence. So I could start being aware of where I was feeling bad and blaming myself for things that were really a cause of racism and internalized racism. Why blonde Kelly whats-her-name ignored me with a holier-than-thou air when I said hi to her in homeroom; how I felt deficient because my boobs were so much smaller than all the white girls who loved to flaunt theirs; how I simply felt constantly timid and shy. It all must have been horribly stressful. And so a whole new world opened for me when I realized, hey, a lot of other Asian girls feel this way too— it’s not just me! How liberating, how empowering, how wonderful!
Read more in my Manifesto for Young Asian Women.