BY JENNIFER CHEUK

 

At a coffee shop with my mum and dad, my brother and I are a sin for people to stare at. Where do we sit but in a limbo, between the whispers and stares of coffee shop goers who are confused at whether this is our real dad or our real mum, or whether my brother and I are real at all? Just a shock to the system, a non-human, a non-reality. Do I make you uncomfortable?

When I was younger I thought people were either mean or not mean, it had nothing to do with being different or having the wrong eyes, the wrong food at lunchtime, or just being wrong, wrong, wrong. It was something else.

I wasn’t allowed to mix colours together, I got told off for doing that. I had to use yellow, white or brown and these were the only colours my painted year 3 portrait could be. I kept looking in the little handheld mirror and seeing… what? Did I exist? Could I exist if not in the in between? When I tried to put my yellow paintbrush in the white paint pot, my teacher laughed and said no. The White kids laughed and said no, the Chinese kids laughed and said no. They were scared of me, sitting in the same classrooms, drinking from the same fountains, they were scared of me because I lived in the abyss.

Limbo exists and I am proof of that. To both exist and not-exist is real, and it is terribly lonely.

In amongst the fear, there was also fascination. Friends who saw me as an oriental gateway into some forbidden land. I was cute like a dog and I didn’t have feelings; I could be paraded around to parties as a culturally aesthetic accessory. I go with every colour palette and outfit because I’m not too yellow or too pale, I am a lovely in between! You could say what you wanted to me and I would smile, because god it felt good to exist. I was in high demand to be divided up, bottled up and put on shelves as an ornament from Hong Kong. A Chinese medicinal cure, a decorative justification for your inherent racism.

Why do we teach children this? That we must only exist in a dichotomy, a disjunction of: x OR y? You may only use white paint or yellow paint? Really, we are constructed of conjunctions: x AND y.

Humans are trained to cope through binary categorizations, through assessing who we meet and narrowly defining them. But my brother and I make you uncomfortable because your brain must think twice when you see us; the computation element of your mind skips, it displays an error message and your brain freezes. You stare at me, and one day, I will stare back. You will be confused because I have eyes just like you. I am human, but not quite.

You don’t hear about the half-caste experience because we live in limbo and our voices don’t reach your ears. You don’t listen to us, you don’t learn forward and interact with us. We are fleeting friends to satiate your youthful interest in travelling to exotic places. We belong in underwear commercials when companies want representation but don’t want the mess of culture shock. Then we are belittled for not being a “real Asian”.

I look like you, I talk like you, but not quite. I belong in two worlds at once, two cultures, two lives, but also none at all. Do I make you uncomfortable?

 

JENNIFER CHEUK is a English/Communications and Linguistics major with a passion for graphic novels and sophisticated picture books.  She likes eating grated cheese and watching niche films. Can be found cartooning and writing on Instagram: @selcouthbird.

 

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