chameleon

I.

It’s a cliche, I know but
my very first friend, that I remember
anyway, was a black girl. Her
skin dark like polished obsidian, I remember
she was beautiful.

Thinking on it now, it seems
unlikely, two little girls with contrasting
tones — one dark, one light — skipping,
skipping ’round the block with
no care of the world.

Then something happened.

I no longer wanted to be her friend.

I didn’t want her to be my friend.

How can this be? We weren’t even in
kindergarten yet. How can this be?
We didn’t even know racism yet.
How can this be? We were literal BFFs.
How can this be?

II.

In grade school we start to learn, start
to pick up on the nuances of how
our guardians see the world. Maybe they don’t
notice, but we do. We notice even if we don’t
fully understand. We see and act accordingly.

In grade school, my friends looked
like me or kinda like me: half
or white. Hardly could call a black kid
a friend. They were just “there.” We shared
the classroom, shared the bus, shared the playground.

Mixed-white, mixed-black, full white,

Half-Japanese, half-Korean, half-Thai,

Half-the-result-of-American-Military-Imperialism

All swaddled in the American flag, like
a giant kumbaya camp but underneath the
songs of peace and human dignity are
subliminal messages of so-called
American greatness.

III.

In middle school our innocence
begins to wear down. The lines are
drawn and cliques are formed,
self-segregating in the strangest possible way,
what with most of us being halfies.

But certain divisions are clear,
maybe even obvious: blacks with blacks,
whites with whites. The rest of us?
Ambiguous enough but make our
sides known.

Where did I go?

It’s hard to say.

Was it confusing?

Not really? My fluidity was my pass,
a pass that let me build friendships
with diverse human beings, some
lasting into adulthood. My fluidity
was unquestioned, it was normal.

IV.

In high school the race thing
started getting annoying. It became
more of a chore to have to decide:
Am I White, or am I Asian?
Why can’t I pick both?

But this questioning never went beyond
the obligatory forms that were
filled out for college applications,
scholarships, and other such
things that come with high school.

Choose your race.

Choose only one.

Asian. But I’m White, too. Dammit.

It was too stressful so I continued
the habit of checking off White.
No one ever talked to me otherwise,
you know, about the benefits of identifying
as a person of color. My name made it easy, too.

V.

It wasn’t until undergrad I started
marking myself as Asian. Then, when
given the option to “mark more than one,”
I checked Asian and White. Then something
happened, and I started to opt for “other.”

Not fully White, not fully Asian, and asked
the perpetually rude, WHAT ARE YOU?, I was done.
Done choosing. WHERE ARE YOU FROM? And
then the explanations about military family
and my impeccable English.

I was both and

I was neither.

I am just a human being.

You see, American Military culture is not
American culture. I wasn’t prepared
for the gawking, the othering I got when I
moved to the U.S. It was downright
horrifying. Somehow, I wasn’t prepared.

VI.

Things seem to be better now
but of course, it’s an insignificant amount.

What’s better is what I create.
Like friends who are also mixed or a person of color.

My new development is a distrust of
white people. Or Whiteness.

Or the privileges and fluidity with which they
move about. The same privileges that have,
on occasion, benefited me and mire me in filth.

###

I originally wrote this poem for the Yeah Write Poetry Prompt (#478), but after re-reading the instructions, I realized I didn’t follow the prompt at all. I was mostly just caught up in the structure of “series,” failing to see the actual prompt. Regardless, I wrote this, and I ain’t deleting it.

Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash.

I don’t know much about poetry but wanted to give it a try. It helps, or helped, writing this in an informal way, to get stuff of my virtual chest. Things are happening and a lot is weighing on me.

5 Comments

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Great title. I really liked “Half-Japanese, half-Korean… Half-the-result-of-American-Military-Imperialism.” I was unclear on when the move to the U.S. happened… not until college? or before that?

I think you hit the prompt just fine. A series is a series and Roman numerals adds a formality to this piece that the language in the lines runs against.

Poetry is a wonderful form of expression, and I hope you continue to write it. It was clear that you were focusing on a series form, and it works very well, the progression and growth throughout the poem a model of your own personal progression and growth. Beautiful work.

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