I was seven when I first discovered
that the words my mouth created
were different to the ones the children
spoke on the playground.
My English was broken,
so I was told,
and in that moment the stereotypes
hit me as heavy as my mother’s accent sounded to foreigners.
The world was not my oyster anymore,
that had been guaranteed
the moment I was plucked from my mother’s womb
and fell into the latex-covered hands of a white man.
My classmates spoke of the Asian restaurants they would frequent,
of how the aromas soaked their cotton clothes
and the way the food left them more satisfied
than the pay cheques the chefs would ever receive.
The leathered hands my mother wore;
the lines etched into her dry palms,
spoke of greater stories than the fairy tales
I had to recite to my English teacher.
It told of the late nights she worked,
cutting onions one night and packaging clothes the next,
all to pay for my tuition,
in a country where education is supposed to be free.
My mother’s broken English
came with the hope
that I would not grow up
the punch line of some racist joke.
The shattered hope
that I would remember
the exact ways to roll my r’s
and the proper pronunciation of words in my native tongue.
But even that
soon tasted as foreign
as the Chinese medicine I was fed
as a child.
My talent became the ability to laugh at the racist insults thrown my way,
to make fun of the kids who had mono lids and brought rice to school;
whilst at the same time,
praying that my mother
would not notice the deteriorating pride I had for my culture.
I dyed my hair and bleached my skin,
wanting so badly to belong
in a place that did not want me.
My English has become more fluent
than it once was,
but with that it seems
language barriers aren’t the only things I have broken.