By Sandy Tan
This poem is an exercise in claiming my place in history—as a member of a community but also as an individual. It explores some thoughts I frequently have about my Asian American identity and living in New York.
Are you a Banana or a Twinkie? If you’re Asian, it doesn’t make a difference At least that’s what the stock clerk told Mom when we were shopping at the supermarket. After 15 minutes spent in the orange pile, She drifted to the bananas “Bananas are bananas,” he interjected Mom laughs at his ignorance and picks up two of them She waves her right hand holding the yellow-skinned fruit “This American” She shows him the other one it was short, stout “This Asian.” Maybe it was the condescending glance the clerk gave me or the murderous smell of durian but at that moment I felt ashamed Ashamed that Mom had spoken out about a banana in her broken English. We didn’t appear to him as American, but in this moment I didn’t feel Asian either. If you ask for a fork in the restaurant to eat a bowl of rice, If you can’t communicate with your grandparents in Taishanese, If you don’t understand the old lady asking for directions on Mott Street, If you don’t get straight As, If you don’t play the piano, If you can’t read the newspaper your parents read, If you don’t cook rice in a rice cooker, If you don’t aspire to be a pharmacist, If you don’t wash dishes by hand, then what kind of Asian are you? The ones they call Bananas or Twinkies. Yellow, but white. I ask Mom what she thinks of this, but she doesn’t care much. She says I am American and I should be proud She says it’s okay to not use chopsticks She says it’s okay to talk to my grandparents in broken Chinese She says it’s okay to not understand the old ladies in Chinatown to be less than perfect to not know “Clair de Lune” to read the New York Times instead of 星島日報 to make rice on the stovetop. She says it’s okay I don’t want to be a doctor dishwashers are a scam The only type of Asian I should be is me— her daughter. Asian, but American.
Sandy Tan is a senior in high school with a strong interest in the intersection between creative writing and technology. She believes technology and writing are not only tools for self-expression but also mediums for change. She is involved in various all-womxn computer science communities, engaging in projects that address low voter turnout in the United States and the gender gap in STEM. Her goal is to inspire more young womxn to find their place in the world of technology. In her spare time, Sandy loves baking with her older sisters, reading and painting.