A is for Average | Teen Ink

A is for Average

June 13, 2013
By Katy Ma BRONZE, Warrington, Pennsylvania
Katy Ma BRONZE, Warrington, Pennsylvania
2 articles 12 photos 6 comments

It’s third period math class and our quiz grades are being handed back to us. Amidst the excited chatter a friend whips around to face me and asks, “What’d you get?” I glance down at the red fate on my paper: “A-” I answer. Jokingly she jabs, “Wow, way to be an underachieving Asian!” I laugh it off playfully, but to reconcile, she confesses that she only received a “B+.” We return to solving differential equations.

I am 16 years old. I have brown eyes and stand an average height of 5’4” inches tall. I am an only child. I love to learn and on standardized tests I dutifully check the box labeled “Asian American.” From kindergarten to the 4th grade I lived in Memphis, Tennessee. Our neighbors to the left were Indian, our neighbors to the right were white, our neighbors across the street were black, and two other Asian families lived down the street. At school, my lunch table resembled a mini United Nations and my name was never a peculiarity during morning roll call.

Unbeknownst to me, my under-the-radar status would completely change once we moved the suburbia Pennsylvania, where ethnic diversity was as scarce as a pre-schooler without food stains on their shirt. In this new place, my identity as an Asian girl suddenly overpowered my identity as a girl, and to some I was just an “Asian” because nevermind my personality or eccentricities—I couldn’t possibly be a deviation from the established stereotypes. Before, being Asian was simply another characteristic of my identity, as much as having a scar on my right knee had been. After moving, it was as if having a scarred knee became my entire identity. I didn’t know, yet, of the connotations associated with being Asian.

My new classmates seemed generally accepting of my background, yet I couldn’t help but notice their unprovoked assumptions about me. When they asked if I played piano, I answered yes. When they asked if I eat rice at home, I answered yes. To getting good grades, drawing, speaking Chinese, wearing slippers at home, and having a doctor as a father; all yeses. My answer to all of the above prompted exchanged glances as if to say, “Ha! Typical,” or often, even the not-so-subtle outburst: “You’re soo Asian!” I thought to myself, “Absolutely preposterous! What do you mean my caramel complexion isn’t just a stubborn tan?!”

My sympathetic, non-Asian friends often ask me if I hate that all Asians are expected to be smart, high-achieving, and musically gifted. What they don’t expect is when I genuinely answer, “No I don’t.” Today, six years after moving, I’ve accepted that realistically, I have two options: I can either wade in bitterness or challenge myself to use the expectations to my advantage while defying negative Asian stereotypes.

So I tell myself to see it as a challenge that has two parts. First, to meet the expectations that will benefit me, like getting good grades and and striving to achieve more. But also, to defy negative Asian stereotypes through the way I live my life. People are sometimes shocked when they see me brush off a less-than-perfect grade (If in Asian-language, “A is for average” dear God, where did I stand?); I shrug. Not out of apathy, but because I refuse to place my self-worth in grades or in hoarding laurels of impressive achievements, as typically expected of Asians (spoiler alert: I also don’t don’t watch Anime, listen to k-pop, or want to be a doctor). But at the same time, I genuinely love bubble tea, Chinese food, school, playing piano, and having (gasp!) “Asian” parents.

Do I fit into the stereotypes? Very much so. Do stereotypes define me? To that I say “very funny” and continue eating my unfinished bowl of fried rice.

The author's comments:
A personal reflection.

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