My Elvis Blues

When I was ten years old we moved to Dalton, a small town in Western Massachusetts. The kids were really fascinated by me, because they’d never encountered an Asian before in real life. It didn’t bother them at all that I was only “half” Asian; they thought I was the real deal.

One Saturday, some of the boys went to see Blue Hawaii, Elvis’s latest film. My mom wouldn’t let me go; I was only allowed to see Disney movies. On Monday when I went to school they had a surprise for me — a new nickname.

I knew it wasn’t going to be Elvis but was dumbstruck when they gleefully announced that they had found the perfect name for me — Ping Pong! Johnny explained that I reminded them of Elvis’s Chinese servant who was, you guessed it, named Ping Pong. Billy said it was just the best possible name for me. I wanted to tell them I was Japanese, not Chinese, but knew it wouldn’t make any difference. I was saddled with Ping Pong for years, though they did mercifully shorten it to Ping.

Some years later I met Peter Kiang, my first friend who was also mixed Asian. His dad had come to the U.S. from China. He told me the story of how his friend in fifth grade excitedly showed Peter a drawing he had made of him. The buck-toothed caricature even had a name — Fuji.

Dumb white kids.