I understand that a person’s memory can be a terribly tricky thing, and that by continuously recalling something, you can actually corrupt the memory even more as your brain attempts to fill in the details. With that being said, I would like to share a story from my high school years, which is more than a decade ago at this point.
My parents, being ethnically Chinese, decorated our home with some typical Chinese things such as calligraphy scrolls, Buddha statues, and a rice farmer outfit complete with the now infamous rice hat. At some point either in my freshman or sophomore year, I decided to wear this rice hat to school, judgmental looks be damned. I think I might have just watched “The Luck of the Irish” on the Disney channel or something which probably also fueled the decision.
After entering high school, I would occasionally receive teasing remarks about my ethnicity or my looks so I figured that if I was being teased for being Chinese that I would just be even MORE Chinese to show them that I was (and still am) proud of my heritage. Now, I’m sure the vast majority of the people around me didn’t even really care. My high school was made up of around 4000 students so most passersby could barely afford the split second to think I was a weirdo Chinese girl in a rice hat before their attentions were forced away by whatever teen drama they were dealing with in their own lives. I, on the other hand, cared a great deal about wearing this rice hat. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, maybe even a little bit scared, to wear something that stood out so much from my fellow students. I wanted people to like me as much as the next person, but I also wanted to show people that I was indeed different and that I took great pride in the legacy my parents gave me.
There was one other individual who seemed to care just as much I did though. She was another Chinese girl who I had gone to Chinese school with on the weekends. To give a bit of background, I attended Chinese language classes every Sunday from when I was in kindergarten until the end of the 8th grade. This other Chinese girl and I never really got along but Chinese school had ended a year or two ago at this point and I had not even really seen her around. Again, the school had 4000 students with classes spread over four different buildings.
I’m not sure how the confrontation started. This is where my memory becomes extremely fuzzy. After our classes had ended, the other Chinese girl walked up to me out of the blue and slapped the rice hat off of my head. I’m guessing she thought I was embarrassing her as a fellow Chinese person. Maybe she just wanted to fit in with everyone else, and I was drawing too much attention to the fact that we were different. Who knows what her motivation could have been? I can’t really explain what happened afterward. My friend who was with me at the time said that I just started chewing her out and apparently whatever I had said was really effective because she started to cry. I truly don’t remember what I said though. The next thing I know I’m picking up my rice hat off the ground and walking away.
I don’t even know where that rice hat is anymore.
Now you can say that I was just feeding into the Chinese stereotype, that I was doing some sort of disservice to my fellow Asian-Americans and to that I say, “That’s ridiculous!” If I genuinely like it, I’m not going to avoid wearing or doing something just because I’m afraid to fit into some sort of stereotype. I love old Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li movies. I love watching anime. I used to throw ninja stars at a wooden wall in my home. I had my mom make a qipao for me for my 5th grade graduation. And even now, I would proudly wear that rice hat if I ever actually went outside. Think about how great of a hat it is! It’s light, it’s incredibly breathable to allow breezes through, and it protects your face from the sun way better than any baseball hat. Why deny or hide any of those things?
I’m getting a little off topic…
Anyway, I like the things I like, and I don’t see the point in suppressing anything just to avoid fitting into a stereotype.