IN THE HEYDAYS OF HIS EYES
(taut jeans dancing)

An Anthology of Poetry about Being Young and Growing Up
 
 
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WHEN I WAS GROWING UP

Nellie Wong

I know now that once I longed to be white. How? you ask. Let me tell you the ways. when I was growing up, people told me I was dark and I believed my own darkness in the mirror, in my soul, my own narrow vision. when I was growing up, my sisters with fair skin got praised for their beauty and I fell further, crushed between high walls. when I was growing up, I read magazines and saw movies, blonde movie stars, white skin, sensuous lips and to be elevated, to become a woman, a desirable woman, I began to wear imaginary pale skin. when I was growing up, I was proud of my English, my grammar, my spelling, fitting into the group of smart children, smart Chinese children, fitting in, belonging, getting in line. when I was growing up and went to high school, I discovered the rich white girls, a few yellow girls, their imported cotton dresses, their cashmere sweaters, their curly hair and I thought that I too should have what these lucky girls had. when I was growing up, I hungered for American food, American styles coded: white and even to me, a child born of Chinese parents, being Chinese was feeling foreign, was limiting, was unAmerican. when I was growing up and a white man wanted to take me out, I thought I was special, an exotic gardenia, anxious to fit the stereotype of an oriental chick when I was growing up, I felt ashamed of some yellow men, their small bones, their frail bodies, their spitting on the streets, their coughing, their lying in sunless rooms shooting themselves in the arms. when I was growing up, people would ask If I were Filipino, Polynesian, Portuguese. They named all colors except white, the shell of my soul but not my rough dark skin. when I was growing up, I felt dirty. I thought that god made white people clean and no matter how much I bathed, I could not change, I could not shed my skin in the gray water. when I was growing up, I swore I would run away to purple mountains, houses by the sea with nothing over my head, with space to breathe, uncongested with yellow people in an area called Chinatown, in an area I later learned was a ghetto, one of many hearts of Asian America. I know now that once I longed to be white. How many more ways? you ask. Haven't I told you enough?

 
 
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