A Life of Letters

When I sat down to write about my experiences growing up as one of the only Asians in nearly every setting of my life, I found that the best way was to write a series of letters…

Dear Kid on the Playground, 

Thank you for pointing out that I don’t look like my Mom, as if I didn’t already know. No, she didn’t kidnap me and no, my dad doesn’t look like me either. Yes, I understand that my mom has white skin and I have brown skin, but why does it matter? 

Please stop stating the obvious and repeating, “but she has white skin and you have brown skin” over and over as if you’re not getting through to me. 

Maybe I’ll just go play in a different sandbox. 


Dear Man We Saw Fishing, 

It really hurt my feelings when you told my Dad that his daughter was very pretty while referring to my friend. 

Sure, she has white skin, brown eyes, and strawberry blonde hair, but I was the one holding his hand. 

I know that it caught you off-guard when I was the child who said, “Thank You,” and I appreciate the embarrassment I know that you felt based on your flushed cheeks. But next time, maybe play it safe and don’t comment on the appearance of random strangers’ supposed children. 


Dear Kid on the Bus, 

You did it again today. You told me to go back–back to where I came from, as if it were as simple as packing a bag, hopping a plane, and disappearing forever. 

Truth be told, I wish that I could go back, too. Back to a place where there aren’t people like you who pick on people like me. 


Dear Kid on the Bus (Again), 

I’m proud of you. 

Today you tried to be more original. Instead of telling me to “go back to where I came from,” you asked me what “my people” ate. 

“Korean food,” I told you, knowing that anything more specific would be too complicated for your pea-sized brain to comprehend. 

“Crayon food!?” you shrieked back before laughing like a hyena. “You eat Crayon food?! Gross!” 

I guess I should be thankful that you didn’t ask if I ate dog. 


Dear Miss B, 

I understand that you teach Ancient Civilizations and that perhaps you haven’t read past the Silk Road in the history books, but I really wish you didn’t call me out for my shirt in front of the entire class. 

I know that my shirt had a silk-print inlay and a Chinese-style collar, but that didn’t mean my mother made it. 

When I told you that I bought the shirt at The Limited Too, the already embarrassing conversation should have ended. You didn’t need to go on to say that you were “unaware stores made clothes for your (my) kind of people.” 

But thank you. Thank you for highlighting your blatant ignorance in front of twenty eleven-year-olds. 


Dear Classmate, 

If you’re going to pick on me for being a “goody-two-shoes” and a “teacher’s pet,” fine. Go ahead. But don’t take it a step further by telling the rest of my classmates that I am only good because if I’m not, my parents will “send me back to China.” 

For one, you have no idea how much pressure I put on myself every day because somewhere deep inside, I really do feel like I have to be the perfect child because of my adoption. You will never know what it’s like to feel that you were inherently unwanted and unloved, and to spend every second of every day doing whatever you can to prove that you were worth saving. 

For another, if my parents were going to send me back to anywhere, it would be Korea because that’s where I’m actually from. 


Dear Kid Who Called Me The N-Word, 

You just might be the biggest idiot I have ever met. 

I hope that your name-calling impressed your friends because that’s the only reason I can think of for you to yell something so offensive and stupid. 

If you friends did laugh, I hope they were laughing at you. I hope they were laughing because their buddy is too ignorant and colorblind to realize that I’m not even Black. But even if I were, my biggest wish for you is that one day, you will learn the severity and offensiveness of that word–whether it’s by growing up and broadening your horizons…or saying it to someone who has the guts to give you a swift kick to the teeth. 


Dear Mother In My Neighborhood, 

Why did you call your children inside from the front yard when I came up your driveway? And why didn’t you open the door? 

I heard you tell your oldest, “It’s one of the bad people from the news,” but I just don’t understand. 

I promise that I just wanted to ask if you’d be willing to donate some money to a worthy cause. You see, I wanted to raise money to buy water to send to New York City.

 If you’ve been watching the news so much, you should know that there are many people and first responders in need of water because someone just flew two planes into the Twin Towers…


Dear Wise-Ass Kid, 

Perhaps you should re-take 7th grade Life Science. Based on your comments about me to the class, you don’t seem to know that all children are products of intercourse. Just because I am adopted does not mean that I didn’t grow in my mother’s womb or that I wasn’t born naturally. 

So stop telling people that I was “Made in China” at a factory and shipped to my parents in a box.   The “Made In China” joke is old. I’ve been hearing it since I was in first grade. And how many times do I have to tell people? I’m from KOREA. 

Dear Teachers, 

I wish that you would not seem so surprised when my Mom introduces herself at Open House. 

I know that you were probably expecting her to be Asian, but alas, she is not. It would be appreciated if she didn’t need to explain that I am adopted before you pick your jaw up off the floor and wipe the confused look off your face. 


Dear Honors History Teacher, 

I realize that you might not have ever needed to teach someone who looks like me, but I promise that I deserve to be in your class based on merit and not just because of a diversity quota. 

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to go to the Principal and complain, though. And thank you for then pulling me aside during class to tell me that I would need to do more than anyone else to earn an A because you, “won’t stand for this”–this meaning, me. 

Thank you because at the age of 14, I learned that unfortunately, there will always be people in the world who will try to keep me down just for the color of my skin.


Dear Classmate, 

You didn’t need to corner me in the locker room after gym class to tell me that nobody wanted me here, and shoving me into the lockers was a little excessive. 

I already knew from what others had said that you thought I didn’t deserve to have anything or be anything. 

“You should be poor and stupid,” you said. “My parents say that your people should grow up to work in factories for cheap labor, and that it’s unfair that you have opportunities just because you were picked up by some white people. My dad lost his job because they filled in his position with some C****. That’s what you are.” 


Dear Ex-Boyfriends, 

Every time I dated a new one of you, I thought it would be different. I believed that you genuinely thought I was beautiful because I was me, not because I was Aian. 

I wish that you never bragged to your friends that I was Asian–like my ethnicity made me some kind of trophy. 

I wish that you never threw the word “Asian” before body parts as a descriptor when giving shallow compliments such as, “I love you Asian ass.” 

I wish that you didn’t talk about me and other Asian women in ways that perpetuated overtly-sexualized stereotypes, such as the claim that “Asian p**** is the tightest.” 

I wish that you never called me “exotic” like I was some mythical creature. 

I wish that you didn’t try to categorize me within your different versions of Asian by telling me that, “thankfully your eyes aren’t as slanty as say, a Japanese girl’s.” 

I wish that you didn’t joke about having “Yellow Fever” as a way to explain why you “only date Asian girls.” I just love being told that being with me is a symptom of a fictional disease. 


Dear Nail Salon Technicians, 

Please stop asking me where I’m from. It really isn’t any of your business. I avoid getting manicures now because I am tired of having the same conversation. 

“Where are you from?” 

“New York.” 

“No, no, what country you from?” 

“Korea.” 

“Ohhhh you don’t look Korean.” 

“Well, I am.” 

“You speak Korean?” 

“No.” 

“Why your parents never teach you?” 

“I’m adopted.” 

Silence. 


Dear Ignorant People, 

Stop telling me that I speak English really well once you rudely ask where I’m from and find out it’s Korea. Don’t follow it up by saying, “oh it’s because you’re second generation.” 

No! I’m not second generation. I was adopted and grew up only speaking English because English is the only language that anyone in my house speaks! Even so, why is it even any of your damn business? I don’t go around asking you where you’re from or what language you speak based on your outward appearance, so please stop asking me. 

Yes. I speak English really well. In fact, I majored in English. I teach English Language Arts. Maybe someone should teach you some manners. 


Dear Sixth Grader From The Cafeteria, 

I thought I was imagining things. When I raised my hand and told the cafeteria to be quiet for dismissal, I thought that it was only in my head that you said to your table in a fake Asian accent, “okayyy Pork Fried Rice.” 

I really thought I had heard you wrong. I thought there was no way a student would ever say that to a teacher so publicly. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt in my head, and I even told the Vice Principal that I wasn’t sure it really happened because I didn’t want it to have really happened. 

But it did. You actually called me Pork Fried Rice. 

I wish that it didn’t bother me because I was an adult and you were a child. I wasn’t angry–I knew that you were probably just trying to get a rise out of people in an inappropriate way, but I truly wasn’t prepared for how much your comment ripped through my heart. 

I appreciated your apology letter that administration made you write, and I hope that you read my letter back to you. I really meant it when I said that I hoped to have you in my class next year so we could both get to know each other better. 


Dear Other Sixth Grader Whom I Passed In The Hallway, 

This time I knew I wasn’t hearing things. You definitely called me Pork Fried Rice. 

When I went to report you to the Assistant Principal, I discovered that you were friends with the first sixth grader who called me that last week. One would think that you would have learned to not do such things by proxy…


Dear Parents Struggling With Infertility, 

I wish that you would stop referring to adoption as a “last resort.” 

While I don’t personally understand, I accept that you really want to have your own biological children. But  as an adoptee, it’s hurtful to be talked about as if we were adopted us as a backup plan. We already struggle with the fact that we were given up in the first place, so please don’t suggest that we weren’t really wanted by the family that we came to have. 


Dear Waitstaff at Asian Restaurants, 

Just because I walk into your restaurant with a bunch of White people does not mean that I am the token Asian bringing all the Caucasians to experience Asian cuisine. 

I am not going to order for the entire table. And when I do order for just myself, I will do it in English, by pointing to the number of the dish I want next to its picture on the menu–not by butchering the pronunciation of the dish’s actual name. 

Also, please give the entire dinner party both forks and chopsticks. Contrary to what you seem to believe, my husband and parents can actually use chopsticks quite well, so I should not be the only one to get them. Furthermore, sometimes I prefer to use a fork because eating brown rice with chopsticks is too tedious when I’m hungry. 


Dear Well-Meaning People, 

Please, please stop telling me how lucky I am to have been adopted by such loving parents. 

I am not a charity case, and I don’t need reminding that my situation could have turned out much differently. Telling me that I am lucky makes me feel like I didn’t actually deserve to be adopted or be where I am today–it suggests that it was just some random stroke of coincidence that allowed me to have the upbringing that I did. 

At the same time, why don’t you ever say that my parents are lucky to have adopted me? Why is it always the other way around? Adoption is a two way street, and any adoptive family will tell you that it has nothing to do with luck. Adoption is about parents and children loving each other unconditionally and completing each others’ lives. 

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