I threw open the shower curtains and quickly ran inside. I turned on the shower. A stream of cold water hit my back and I jolted at the iciness. But I didn’t care. My fingers quickly found the white soap bar, sitting on the edge of the tub and I rubbed my skin as fast I could with it. My vision became blurry with tears as more flew down my face. My heart began to beat faster and faster and my breath turned rapid. I rubbed my eyes with my hand, but it was no use. The tears wouldn’t stop as I continued to rub at my skin with the bar of soap. Faster and harder I pushed the soap bar against my skin, trying with all my might to wash the ugly yellowness away.
Pain shot up my arm, but I continued until I could feel a small layer of skin peel off. I looked down and the little piece of skin swirled away into the drain. My hand was covered in little red blood spots. I rinsed water on it, closing my eyes. Immediately, I felt my skin sting, but I refused to retract my hand. Slowly, the stinging feeling melted away and the icy water gave me a refreshing sensation.
I peered at my hand. The redness had mostly faded, aside from the little red blood spots that scarred my skin. I touched the skin and slowly rinsed away the white soap. I waited, expecting to see a layer of pearly white skin underneath. Instead I was greeted with yet another layer of an ugly shade of yellow.
I sank to my knees defeated, shivering and chattering my teeth. What was the point of all that, I thought as I clutched my hurting hand to my chest. I sat in the shower with cold water falling on my hand, alone and scared. I closed my eyes, hoping that this was all I dream.
The cold water hitting against my head was beginning to turn warmer and finally, the comforting hot water began to pour from the shower head. I exhaled in relief and rinsed my face under the stream of water, washing my tears away. Steam rose from the stream of water and entered by nostrils, clearing my head. I opened my eyes again. The dream had not ended. I closed my eyes again and slowly waited for everything that happened today to disappear from my mind. A minute passed. Maybe two. And I soon opened up my eyes and turned off the water. “It’s not a dream,” I finally said and slowly stood.
My hands automatically grabbed the pink grapefruit shampoo. A glob formed in my hand and I slapped it onto the top of my head before slowly massaging it in. In the silence, I heard Ma Ma singing in the room next door and my brother talking on the phone downstairs. I heard the clinking of mugs as Nai Nai and Yéye brewed themselves a bit of tea. I heard some footsteps walk up the stairs before disappearing into the room next door.
I turned on the hot water again and slowly rinsed out the soapy mess in my hair. Little bubbles formed around my feet. Maybe, Ma Ma was right, I thought, I should really just forget about all of this. It’s life. It’s not like I could change who I am, I thought as I finished showering and quickly got dressed. The mirror was foggy and I rubbed it clear with my towel. I stared at my Asian face. Foreigner. Chink. The words seemed to dance all over my head and my body. I shook my head back and forth, and the words disappeared. Tears began to well up in my eyes again and I quickly turned on the faucet, drowning my whimpering sounds out.
“Get it together,” I finally mumbled and wiped all signs of distress from my face. I hung my towel back on the rack. As soon as I opened the door, a puff of steam exited the bathroom and into the cold bedroom. I switched the bathroom lights off and the bedroom lights were on. My backpack was sitting on my desk and slowly my homework flew out of the bag. I took a deep breath, determined to block out all foreign thoughts.
For the next hour, I became a working frenzy. Psychology homework. Check? Done. English homework. Check? Done. History homework. Check? Done. Calculus homework. Check? Finally done. Computer science homework. Check? Done.
Done. Done. And done. I collapsed on my bed tired from the day.
College is competitive. Aubrey has been getting good grades. I sat up from my bed. Chink. Foreigner. Pieces from different conversations flew into my head and my dry eyes forced up more tears. I should probably do a little more of studying, I thought as I propped myself back up, it blocks out other thoughts anyhow. I walked to the table and quickly sat down.
I threw open my textbook and turned to the first page of the chapter. A knock came from the door.
The door opened and Ma Ma’s face appeared holding a plate of sliced oranges.
“Here. Ba Ba and I am going to sleep. Sleep as soon as you finish,” Ma Ma said, placing the plate on my desk.
“Okay, Ma Ma. Good night,” I said and waved her goodbye. Ma Ma patted my head before closing the door. I sighed. I don’t want to disappoint her, even if I’m mad, I thought and looked back at my textbook. Well here goes nothing and I picked up my pencil.
A cricket creaked. An owl cooed and soon, my eyes became heavy as I glanced over the last page of the chapter. I slammed the textbook shut and dragged myself to the bed. The wooden frame creaked as I laid down. I threw my colorful flowered blanket over myself and huddled next to the pillow as the wind howled in the background. Asian. Chink. Foreigner. Dog meat. Again the words came back to haunt me. I checked the time. I’ll look at my phone for a bit, I thought as I reached out towards it.
Immediately, the bright screen blinded me and for a second, all I could see was a bright white flash. I paused for a second and allowed my eyes to adjust to the brightness before entering my passcode. Instagram or Tik Tok? I hesitated between the two icons. Ehh, I wanna see something funny. Tik tok, I decided and clicked on the cute black app with a swirly wave.
Immediately, I was greeted with beautiful, dancing girls. “Renegade. Renegade. Renegade. Renegade,” my phone sings as the girls move their bodies front, side, then back. I scrolled. I already saw that dance enough times. The next video was of an Asian girl doing a point of view (POV) tik tok. She laughed crazily, then smiled like an angel, and then bit her lip. Each of her moods complimented a certain lyric. A raised eyebrow. Perfect, pearly teeth. Batting her fake eyelashes. An ABG for sure, I thought as I swiped to another video.
Another girl popped up. “I’m not a model, but here are my pictures,” the video said as the girl flipped her luscious blonde hair behind her shoulder. She was wearing a cute white button up that showed her stomach accompanied with a baby blue pair of jeans. I looked at her, and then myself. I wish I had those looks, I thought as the video continued onward.
A picture of her standing in front of a block of pink flowers appeared. I looked at her jealously. I could never seem to get my photos to look that nice, I thought as another photo appeared. This time, it was of her standing at the beach with a pink bikini on and tilting her face towards the sun. A perfect beam of sunlight hit her face, giving her a soft golden glow. Finally, her last picture was a closeup. She applied a beautiful pink and gold eyeshadow with perfectly straight eyeliner slanted upward. I looked at her for a second before realizing something was off. I stared at her. She had pulled a corner of her eye to get a sharp fox eyed look. At the bottom video was #Foxeye. I clicked on the hashtag.
Hundreds of models, dancers, and celebrities appeared. They were all posing and making videos of sharp eye liner and pulled their eyes back to make their eyes look pointier and sharper.
I looked outside of the window from my house. The bright, yellow sun was up in the sky, shining brighter than ever. I turned to Ma Ma.
“Let’s go to the park,” I said as I grabbed Ma Ma’s hand and dragged her along.
“Slow down,” she said before kneeling down to tie my shoe laces.
“Hurry, Ma Ma,” I said as she finished tying my shoes. I grabbed her hand and continued to drag her to the park. When we got to the park, there were already kids everywhere.
“I’ll be waiting here,” Ma Ma said as she wiped the dust off a nearby bench and sat down. I nodded and waved good-bye before running to the playground, excited to climb onto the monkey bars.
As I climbed up to the top, a little boy stood there, smiling at me. I thought nothing of it and tried to get in from around him, but he sidestepped, blocking my way. I stood there for a second, unsure what to do.
“Hey, you look like this,” the little boy laughed as he pulled his eyes out. A little girl next to him laughed.
“Haha! I’m Asian,” she said as she copied the first boy. The two bursted into giggles and stared at me.
I stared back at them and could only force a smile. A smile that covered up my churning stomach and my watery eyes.
“Why aren’t you laughing,” another boy said, coming over, “it’s just a joke.” I stared down.
“Oh I don’t know,” I replied, stiffling a laugh. The group of kids laughed.
“Classic,” the first boy said.
“Did your mom force you to do too many math problems that you forgot what a joke is,” the girl teased. I said nothing and climbed down from the playground. I ran to Ma Ma.
“I’m ready to go home,” I said to Ma Ma and grabbed her hand.
“Alright then,” she replied and held my hand. She looked back at the kids, and back forward. Ma Ma didn’t say anything even if she knew what happened. I didn’t volunteer any information to her either. As we walked home, I turned around. The group of kids stared out at me confused, but continued to play. I looked back forward and I remember knowing that it wasn’t just a joke. It hurt, but six year old me didn’t know why.
I stared at my phone. The #Foxeye was still on the screen. I didn’t know what to say. Did these people know that it was offensive? Didn’t they know that so many people have used this gesture against Asians like me? I sighed, frustrated. My own features which were once deemed to be so unlikeable and sleepy were now attractive and desirable. Who in the world gets to decide what physical features and what aren’t? It’s not like I can change what I look like. I scrolled and clicked on the comments. Different opinions scattered the page.
“Stop this is racist. You’re normalizing Asian racism.”
“Don’t be so sensitive. It’s just makeup.”
“They are making Asian features seem beautiful. Chill.”
I stopped on the last one. Yes, it’s a good thing that Asian features are beautiful, but after how long? How long did the world sit there and mock us Asians for our eyes? How long did so many of us Asian tried to bury the thought of the gesture and hoped to never see it again? But, now…now it’s a trend. Now, we get to see how what once was offensive be turned into a simple beauty trend. I laughed. Everything was so hypocritical. So now they think we are beautiful? Were we not before? It’s almost as if the world is teasing and playing with us. Now, Asian features is a good thing and now, it’s not.
I sat up on my bed, dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. I knew that many people who participated in the fox eye trend weren’t trying to be racist; however, their actions lacked racial sensitivity. But at the same time, I could see how the fox trend was okay. I could see how many Asians were proud to see that Asian features were admired, but it just seemed that now that it’s a trend, the action is dismissive toward the traumas that many Asians had experienced.
I laid back down and stared at the ceiling, trying to come up with some sort of answer to all my questions. I couldn’t. I took a deep breath. A breeze flew in through the open window and I stood up to close it. I stared outside. A perfect white moon sat in the middle of the sky. I looked at the moon.
“Can you change me,” I asked, waiting for an answer. The moon did not respond and I sighed, shutting the window. I laid back down and thought about everything that had happened over and over again. Ma Ma’s words came back into my head. Just learn to let quickly, she had said. Let go. I sighed. As if that was easy, I thought, It’s easy to let go when you still want to be who you are.