The mountain: I tried to escape racism to become a racist
“The mountain” has been how I pictured the system of power, capitalism and patriarchy suppressing marginalized groups of people.
Growing up poor, my mom told me to climb up “the mountain”: move to bigger cities for better education, study harder to a stable career, or get scholarship to study abroad. She pictured a grand future on top of “the mountain”, and sacrificed everything to push me up there.
And I did.
We cried together the day I received the acceptance letter from the University of Kansas: a full scholarship to pursue an Engineering degree in The U.S. I got to follow my dream. Her dream. The American dream.
The top of the mountain didn’t turn out to be so great. For the first two years, I was anxious: climbing up wasn’t so comfortable. I might speak the wrong accent; I might carry the wrong body; I might ask the wrong questions.
It was lonely up here. Physically, I was 8,584 miles away (air distance) from my family. I made tons of new friends in college. Yet Mac&Cheese wasn’t my home comfort food, nor Arthur my favorite childhood TV show. I was alone physically and mentally. But I couldn’t tell my parents. We sacrificed everything to get me here. I couldn’t climb down to my family, where poverty trap, low quality education and dead-end jobs resided. I had to keep climbing, hanging to the privileged steps I took.
The desire to be privileged was huge. I learned to speak English better. I got involved on campus. I hung out with the domestic students to blend in. I wanted to get a job, and then get a green card. I wanted to be “an American”.
A year passed. I almost forgot my identity being a foreigner. I was too busy to blend in and pursue my career. Until “where are you from?” and then I received: “Really? I couldn’t tell! You’re not like those Chinese students.”
I almost forgot I was still the minority, that my race and my status mattered.
But it hurts more. Who am I now?
When I hung out with the international students, there wasn’t an invisible division by skin color. But I was the privileged one, they said. I adapted well. I spoke English fine. I did all of these cool activities on campus. I learned “the American way”. When I hung out with the U.S. students, my white friends would treat me differently compared to the international “Chinese” or “brown” kids. They would make fun of their awkward English, funny accents, or laughed at anyone who matched the stereotypes.
I don’t want to be laughed at. I don’t want to be like those stereotypical “Chinese” kids.
I have climbed up a long way. I have been running away from being a victim of racism. I have been running away from bad English, funny accents, yellow face, small penis, model minority or straight A’s, “your name is V…? I will call you Bob”, or “are you Chinese?”.
I think I find a happier place - a higher level of privilege on the mountain.
No I’m afraid, again. I have been running away from my own identity, just to protect my privilege.
I am racist.