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Monster Building, Michelle Fang, ink on paper, 23 x 32 cm
Hi, I'm Michelle. I'm a ninth-grader at PA. I was born and raised in Hong Kong, a former British colony where the cultures of the West and East meet. Growing up, I was simultaneously exposed to Western culture and ideologies through my international school and my Chinese roots through my family, friends, and local traditions. Growing up in my situation was extremely common in Hong Kong, so I've never had to struggle with my identity like other bicultural people. I love Hong Kong for being a place where I could comfortably and naturally grow up with a blend of these two cultures.
This piece is a depiction of Hong Kong’s iconic monster building. It is quintessential Hong Kong architecture that exhibits the busy, vibrant, and packed city that I grew up in. I used this piece to practice using vanishing points to create perspective.
真実と欲, Hailee So, pencil and black marker
As a current three-year upper student in Andover, I have always been passionate about expressing my thoughts and emotions through drawing.
I had the privilege to take the PHR Global Buddhism course last fall. Taking the course really allowed me to reflect back to my Asian roots and find value in them. In a time when division and uncertainty seem prevalent, I wanted to use this piece to express my own thoughts on the year 2020. I also wanted to explore my own relations to my inner most 欲（desires, attachment) as well as how to potentially halt my own cycle of suffering using 真実（truth pertaining from enlightenment ). To put it generally, I wanted to connect some of Buddhist concepts I learnt to the year 2020 through this drawing.
I am a second-generation Chinese and Manchurian-American girl who is half-way ignorant of her culture. I can speak and understand fluent Mandarin, but fall short of any true mastery of the language. I'm a ravaged student only acquiesced by xiaolongbao and peking duck. I've had trouble accepting my identity as an East Asian girl, always looking for validation in places that I shouldn't have. My journey to self-acceptance can best be described as: halfway there.
I could never bring my homemade lunch to school. It smelled bad and I hated to see the faint looks of disgust that graced my classmates' faces when I opened the lid. I felt this way about almost every aspect of my Asian American identity. It's that age-old crisis of which side of yourself to embrace. As I've grown older, I've come to appreciate and find pride in the parts of myself that matter. But this is no linear progression. There's days where I feel worse about my last name than others. I can only definitively describe my "reclamation of the Asian identity" as a work in progress. Never fully finished.
Half Way There, Emma Jing
My zhajiangmian 炸酱面 is smelly
It’s my favorite food, something simple that reminds me of home
The scent wafts around our unfavorably lit elementary cafeteria
Her pointed nose twitches in a flare of disgust
She smiles at me in that quintessential Western way
The kind that makes my prepubescent heart constrict in my chest
As if she pities me, as if my smelly food next to her uncrusted PB&J
And organic hummus makes her better somehow.
My head chants until I’m dizzy: Defend. Deflect. Detract.
Always easier said than done,
Her measured words tear at any semblance of confidence
My nose doesn’t slope outwards like hers,
The skin around her eyes don’t threaten to swallow her whole
Until nothing but jet black orbs stare out at the world.
My qipao 旗袍 is itchy
The flesh of my ancestors traced in intricate patterns
Trail up my arms and press on my ever-beating heart
Suffocating me as if they sense my unease
With my own culture, or a culture that is only half-mine
I’m a fraud.
My thighs too pudgy, my arms not slender
This isn’t right.
I’m suddenly seized by a culture in which
I don’t understand
I am supposed to see myself
A woman: porcelain skin, cherry lips, and a quiet elegance
Somehow she is me, and I am her.
My hongbao 紅包 is lucky
The ruby four edged envelope,
Maybe it contains a treasure, a secret
My relatives are loud, not in an obnoxious way
But like an endearing cloud of warmth and family
They consume our suburban, carpeted home
Upstairs, their voices dim into a steady hum of stories
Of morals, of food, of laughter.
I’d quit Chinese school long ago,
But my native tongue mingles with their foreign
Us second-generations call it Chinglish,
A delightful concoction of half-identities
The off-tune karaoke bellows out into the wee hours of the night
Halfway there, I think. Halfway there.
I’m a Teaching Fellow in French, a team member in CAMD, and a house counselor in Stuart House. I was born in Japan and lived there until I was 10, when my family and I moved to Ohio. I consider myself to be bicultural and multilingual, and this identity has given me a lot to think about in terms of dynamics between American and Japanese cultures as well as the statuses of the languages I speak—notably Japanese, English, and French.
French is a language that I took up in high school, mainly due to its allure and the beauty of how it sounds. However, the more I studied French, the more I started to question the status of the language. Why did I perceive French to sound fancy? Why is French art and cuisine attributed with such prestige? I realized that history and colonization (physical or mental) have played a major role in how I was socialized to think this way. There is no intrinsic reason that a language or a culture is considered more prestigious than another; the prestige is born once people believe that something is worthy, desirable, or beautiful.
As I continue to teach and use the languages I know, I think about ways to encourage myself and my students to dissect ideas such as colonization and to dismantle toxic linguistic and cultural hierarchies.
I recall myself writing this poem a few years ago, while reflecting on the concept of mental colonization that I had been exposed to. Fatou Diome, writer of the novel Le Ventre de l’Atlantique, explored this phenomenon that haunts the youths of Sénégal, where they believe that France, its former colonizer, is the promised land of success and that everything that comes from France was prestigious. This is partly due to the hierarchy resulting from colonialism, which glorified the colonizer and forced the colonized to assimilate.
I then reflected on my relationship to mental colonization. Having lived in Japan for 10 years, I noticed that things such as beauty standards and the idea of prestige is closely associated to white, Western culture—the historically “dominant” culture. Whatever that emanated from those cultures were considered beautiful, fancy, and desirable, even more so than cultural products that originated in Japan. I realized that I have been socialized to think in this manner, and while I have been trying to value my heritage and free myself from this belief, I still notice the profound scars left by mental colonization.
In the poem, I expressed my frustration as I work to undo the effects of mental colonization, little by little, and my intent to raise awareness. One day, I hope that a sequel can be written where I truly affirm all aspects of my identity.
Pickled, Yuto Iwaizumi
I hadn’t realized for such a long time.
I thought it was all normal to want
A sculpted nose
Hair golder than wheat at harvest
A tall, strong frame housing certainty,
Their heads, tall and proud, above mine or my people’s.
Or—in short—that they are superior.
This idea of hierarchy
Instilled in me through history, media, fashion.
People say pyramids are stable structures—
We know they can last 5000 years.
I’d prefer to take it back,
Take back the confidence and self-adequacy
Stolen by generations before.
Then I see my face appear in the mirror,
Or look down at my short legs,
Or feel my hair that are thick, stubborn wires—
I realize, sometimes, I still want to look like them.
I may have been brainwashed,
Steeping in sour envy for years and years.
What does it take to unpickle a pickle?
Video recording by Andrew Beckwith ’21, reading a collective poem written by students in Asian/American Literature and Film, Spring 2021: After “Things We Carry on the Sea,” by Wang Ping. Students read the original poem and improvised new verses inspired by their own family histories and stories.