A Message to Madison

at 11:43 PM

"Are you half white?" she asked. 

I laughed uncomfortably and squinted my "unusual" wide eyes. I blushed. I swung my arms that refused to tan and covered my freckled face with the hair that, or so I've been told, I "must have dyed because it was too light to be the hair of an Asian." It wasn't the notion that I was perceived to be white, but rather, I was not seen for the part of me in which a good amount of my pride resided. I was not seen as Chinese. I was only American.

I walked into class on the first day of middle school eager to prove to myself and to others that I was entirely Chinese. Little did I know that I would be the only Asian American. Over time, my pride grew and I was noticed for my dark brown hair and Asian complexion. 

One day, I was waiting to meet my "study buddy." The teacher called my name and I found myself face to face with a 4-year-old Chinese American girl. Her name was Madison. "What did you do last summer, Madison?" I asked her. "I went to Switzerland to visit my cousins," she said. I looked at her, eyes wider than they had ever been. "Switzerland?" Her parents came in and I saw that they were European American: she was adopted. She was as American as everyone else, but her image remained solely Chinese. I looked at her and I saw a face like my own, a reflection of who I was at this school: a single Asian American lost in the sea of whiteness. I was not seen as American. I was only Chinese.

I could never meet the expectations of either side of my culture. I was placed in two separate boxes that could not be joined. I had learned that I was someone who would never be good enough.

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I can only imagine how it will be for Madison. Her appearance demonstrates a culture she will never be truly exposed to. She will be conflicted by who she wants to be and who she's supposed to be. She will look in the mirror and wonder why she doesn't look like what was considered to be normal. I can only hope she'll find her way back to her roots, defy all assumptions that come her way, and integrate the two worlds that seemingly oppose each other. 

In thinking about this, I hope I can do the same.

With a Perspective, I am Alex Lee.

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Alex Lee is 17 and a senior at Mills High School in Millbrae.

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