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Asian-American Youth Spotlight:
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August 14th, 2020 | Jessica Wang, New York, U.S.A.
I have two names. One I use everyday while the other I keep stowed inside me, locked behind the bars of my lips and the breath of my tongue.
My caged name is actually quite pretty. It means aroma. Not a smelly one, but a homey warm scent, like the scent of fresh laundry or the steam that bubbles off chicken soup.
Sometimes I say my name to myself, just to see if it’s still there. It’s strangely pronounced and forces my tongue to touch the roof of my mouth and my teeth. I only do it in the dark, huddled under layers of blankets, just in case it tries to make a run for it.
I’m afraid of my chicken soup-laundry name.
It’s odd because you’re not supposed to be scared of a name. Can you imagine if every Tim, Tom, and Harry were afraid of their names? Nobody would call themselves Tim, Tom, or Harry anymore. And that would be a strange world we would live in.
I’m afraid of my name because it’s cursed. It doesn’t belong here, on this soil or in this strange body that I try to call “American”. If I were to let my name go from its cage, past my lips, people would stare and know that I too don’t belong here. They would ask me what my name means and I would explain that directly translated it means “nice smell”. And then they would laugh at the absurdness and wonder what the silly chinese were thinking. Naming a child after a smell? What would be next? A girl named after the taste of a lemon?
If I said my name, it would betray me, reveal me as an outsider. It had done it before and would do it again. So I betray my name first. I betray it by wearing colored contact lenses and trying to look caucasian. I betray it by buying creams to hide the yellowness of my skin. I betray it by waking up everyday and wishing my name wasn’t there, that instead of two names I only had one, one free name.
My mother no longer says my caged name. I don’t know if she notices it but I did. She calls me “Je-ssi-ca,” the name neatly printed on my birth certificate, my official name, the free name. She named me after the actor Jessica Simpson because she’s pretty and american and has blonde hair. The name is easy to pronounce and flows off the tongue smoothly, the american tongue that is.
My second name “Je-ssi-ca” does wonders. It helps me chain up my foreign name and even adds a couple additional locks, determined to snuff it out. And it works. I can no longer hold chopsticks properly or handle the spices of traditional dishes. When I try to speak the language my ancestors once spoke, nothing comes out and what does come out cannot be understood. I can see my relatives cringe when I try to talk to them, they no longer know who I am. I have successfully locked up my name.
But even without saying my name, it still betrays me. People still look at me like I’m an outsider even though I was born here, even though I speak english perfectly, even though I betray a part of myself everyday just to please them.
My caged name is mine. All its dents, curves, and ridges are mine. It’s oddly pronounced and it’s mine. Its skin is yellow and it’s mine. It is me and I am mine.
And when I say my chicken soup-fresh laundry-oddly pronounced-laughable name. I feel good. The syllables punctuate the air daringly and challenges the world around. When I whisper the letters, my name is free and so am I.
I don't want to lock it up anymore.
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