When 12-year-old Sophia Huynh was assigned to write a poem about a social issue for her seventh grade class, she wrote “A-Z American Born Chinese,” an insightful take on race, ethnicity, and the condition of growing up Asian American. Discussing the stereotypes that she faces in school, Sophia illustrates the struggle of negotiating the expectations placed on her by others.
A-Z American Born Chinese
by Sophia Huynh
I remember when I first learned my ABCs.
A is for apple,
B is for bird,
and C is for cat,
but further experience taught me,
that ABC means American Born Chinese.
A is for adjectives,
words that describe nouns,
words that are used to divide and separate.
B is for Bruce Lee,
a character people most associate with me,
asking, “Do you do karate?”
because he used karate to chop down stereotypes,
but what you may not know
is that he also built them up like the Great Wall of China.
C is for chopsticks,
a utensil that keeps my culture together,
but in order to pick something up,
you need to separate the two.
D is for dog,
because every time I see one,
I just can’t help the desire to eat it.
Because your stereotypes hold me down
like an anchor to a ship.
E is for eyes,
because when I was born into this world,
it was too beautiful for me
so I squinted my eyes in order to take a better look.
F is for face,
when facing the reality that some people glance
and instead of taking in my personality,
they walk away
seeming to already know who I am.
G is for gook.
I first heard this when I was nine.
The word hit me like a bomb
as if it were one of the bombs
that were supposed to tear up Vietnam,
because now I ask,
“What the heck is this?”
“What does this mean?”
“You have no right to insult me, my family, or my people!”
H is for Harry Potter.
It was the talk of the town a few years ago,
so my friends and I took a test to see what house we were in.
I was Ravenclaw.
Just like Cho Chang.
I think not!
I is for ignorance,
but it’s okay
because my goal is to
turn that ignorance into integrity.
J is for Jeremy Lin,
Yo-Yo Ma, Michelle Kwan, and Maya Lin,
because these people widen my path,
and just because I might look different,
doesn’t mean certain traits have to stick to me like rice.
K is for Kung Fu,
some people can’t tell the difference
between things that come from China,
and things that come from Japan.
L is for language,
because some people ask me,
“Do you speak English?”
and as a matter of fact, I do.
In fact, I speak two,
“How about you?”
M is for Mandarin,
because in order to communicate with my grandparents,
to connect with them,
I needed to learn this language.
N is for nationality.
It is something no one chooses.
So every time you mistake me,
it strips me away from my individuality.
O is for opposite.
When I was young,
I learned that opposites attract.
But I have no one to attract to
because I am always in the middle,
as if I was a shadow.
No one notices me until they stop,
Until they have nothing else to do,
they turn around and look back at me.
P is for piano,
an instrument I play.
But I wonder why it was made black and white,
when so many Asians play it,
shouldn’t it be yellow and black?
Q is for questions like
“Where are you from?
or “Where are you born?”
as if I had a sticker on my back
that said“Made in China.”
R is for race,
because you can see race.
So if you’re blind,
you can’t see race right?
S is for Sophia.
Sophia is my name,
but why does that not match my appearance?
Do I not look ethnic enough
or is this why I’m feeling deterrence?
T is for typical.
As in, “Typical Asian”
I hear someone say.
So every action that I take goes with,
or goes against my “way”.
U is for understanding.
Because I want you to understand,
more than the color of my skin,
but that you should look within.
V is for violence.
As violence is not the answer,
but how I can do that when
concepts are like fire burning around me,
phrases are like stones thrown toward my face,
and words are like daggers slashed toward my heart?
W is for warm.
For the warm love from family and friends,
but something balances out with my pride.
A heavy stone is taped onto my back.
X is for xenophobia,
because some people like to put tags on me.
“Where are you from?”
China, Japan, Korea?
But they never say America.
Y is for you.
Because you have to think outside of the box.
You can make a difference,
because when I try,
I don’t have the right materials in order to get out.
Z is for zealous.
Zealous is what I’ll be,
when this will go down in history,
just like the old faithful Ying and Yang,
bringing peace and prosperity.
Now to me,
A is for apple,
B is for bird,
and C is for cat.
So next time you see someone like me,
all you have to do is to look back on your