The world around me was pitch black. I strained my ear to the right, hoping to catch some sort of sound. I was greeted with silence. I took a step forward and felt the edge of curtain. I could begin to her the occasional muffled chatter and creaking seats. I scurried back to where I was standing before.
I reached my hand out in front of me and saw nothing. I placed my hand on my heart and I could feel my rapid heart beat and heavy breathing. My stomach felt as if it had folded itself in half and my brain seemed to be filled with butterflies. I took in a deep breath as I braced myself. A hand reached out from in front of me and grabbed mine. It gave me a little squeeze and I gave it two squeezes back. I reached out for someone’s hand from behind me and squeezed it. Two squeezes responded back. My heart begun to beat even faster as a spotlight shone on somebody out of my line of sight. I took another deep breath. I could feel Cheryl’s excitement in front of me and could hear Amanda’s heavy breathing from behind me.
“Good luck,” someone whispered and I closed my eyes, trying to calm myself. Someone tapped my shoulder and I followed my cue. I walked into the darkness, careful not to make any sound with my heels or the tambourine hidden under the layers of my dress.
As I walked in the darkness, I felt the narrow space that I was standing in open up into a huge room. The curtains that had once appeared on both sides of me slowly disappeared. I stopped somewhere in the darkness and lined myself against a little piece of bright tape. I lifted my tambourine above my head.
“One, two, three, four,” I counted silently and the bright, amber lights hit my face. The audience immediately simmered down in perfect silence. I smiled, waiting. The music begun and my body immediately responded to each note without thinking. I tapped my feet on the right beats and hit my tambourine to accompany it. Tap! Tap! Hit! Tap! No one missed a single beat.
We moved forward and back together, just like how Lao Shi instructed us to, and occasionally eyed one another to make sure we were in a straight line. We changed formations, and I immediately moved back to where Cheryl was waiting. I grabbed her hand and we spun around and around together before she and I separated joining the back of the line that Amanda and the rest of the class arranged themselves in. Boom Bappity Bap! Amanda’s cue was signaled and she immediately led a series of turns across the stage. A high turn, then a low, and then a knee turn, the cycle repeated over and over again until each one of us finished the cannon.
I looked around at my friends and begun to relax. A more natural smile appeared on my face as I saw Cheryl and Amanda next to me from the corners of my eye. I knelt down for a second as a girl standing in the center begun to spin continuously in vivid circles The audience was silent, dumbstruck before cheering loudly and clearly.
I looked over at Amanda and she flashed me a smile before continuing to the next move. The lights flickered again and changed into a soft red and orange hue. The music turned into a faster pace and our class quickly ran to our last formation.
We all arranged ourselves in a circle and began to spin. As I spun, I saw Cheryl’s happy smile and Amanda’s bright eyes. As I spun, the world seemed to slow down as I remembered the tang yuan Yéye had gave me. As I spun, I saw my own reflection on the edge of the tambourine. An Asian girl with a traditional headpiece and costume from her heritage stared back at me. She looked happy, and even seemed to be enjoying herself. Then, the girl split in half and I saw an American girl stare back. She looked exactly like me except, she talked and acted like an American. She even used, the same jargon as the rest of the kids do. She was “normal.” I looked at the two halves of the girl. “Can you accept me,” they asked and I smiled, brighter than ever. “Yes,” I responded and the music immediately slowed down.
I was thrown out of my spins and paused to look at the audience. A bright blue light shone onto each of us as we all began to move slowly to the music. I raised an arm slowly, extending it up into the air as if I was trying to touch the sky. As I raised my hand, everyone rose their hand together, displaying a simple gesture of togetherness.
In that moment, the world around me froze. In that moment, I changed my mind and took back everything I had said. In that moment, I realized that I couldn’t throw away my own heritage. And in that moment, I was proud to be an Asian American.
I looked at the audience and a sea of Asian faces looked back at me. At one glance, someone that didn’t read this story might have thought that we were somewhere else in that world. But that wasn’t the case. In my eyes and homily in yours too, I saw Americans.
Americans that worked hard to be standing here today. Americans that should be treated with equal amounts of respect as everyone else. Americans that were part of two worlds. Two worlds that balanced each other out to create the group of people that stood in front of me.
The music slowly stopped and I lifted my arm into the final position. I was greeted by silence. Then, a second later, the audience leaped up from their seats and begun cheering and clapping. I quickly stood up and joined my class for a quick bow and as I stood up on the stage, I caught Ma Ma and Ba Ba in the middle row, standing up and clapping. Ba Ba looked proudly at me as he clapped and hollered. I looked at Ma Ma and gave her my brightest smile. She smiled back at me to let me know that she was still proud of me. I paused for a second and felt happy tears well up in my eyes. “Don’t worry,” Ma Ma mouthed and I wanted to cry even more. I opened my mouth to say I’m sorry, but before I could the world went black again.
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