Personal Essay: Goldfish Crackers


[Image Description: Young girl is sitting at the table, eating her school lunch. She seems to be deep in thought.]

Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels 
Essay by Jackie Huang

2010, when I was 5. My parents brought me from China to New York, where I spent one year at a public kindergarten.

Snack time was marked by the zipping of lunch bags and the clicking of Tupperware. The children habitually set their boxes on the table and lifted the tops to reveal a whirlwind of colorful containers with names I could not recognize. Jealous looks immediately smothered the boy sitting at the far end when he smugly took out a pack of goldfish crackers, accompanied by a sweet post-it from his mother. 

Then all eyes were on me. 

I tried to replicate their steps. I reached into my backpack and pulled out mine. Except, there was no zipping of a lunch bag, only the rustling of a white plastic bag. There was no clicking of Tupperware, only the wrinkling of Saran wrap. And there were no colorful containers, only two red bean buns. There were also definitely no goldfish crackers.

The cocked heads turned back (might want to adjust this sentence for clarity - a bit confusing if they are already looking at you). The shifting seats stopped. No more anticipation. Only faces of confusion. Silence hung in the air until a boy at the back yelled at the back: “Who wants goldfish crackers?” At that moment, as if he had flipped a switch, the children went crazy.

The trade had begun.

“I have two Oreos!”

“Can I have the chocolate?”

“Where's the Capri Sun?”

“I’ll give you my gummies!”

Within a span of three minutes, everyone had filled their boxes with a plethora of shapes and colors. Sprinkled all over the table were Goldfish crackers, and the boy, with none left, happily dug into his wide array of traded goods. I stared down at my box: still two red bean buns.

As I tore away the plastic and bit into my first bun, the red filling oozed out and dripped onto the table. All eyes were on me again.

“Is that jam?” A girl asked.

I shook my head.

“Why is it in bread then?” said another.

I shrugged.

“Ew,” said the boy at the back. He pointed at the red drop on the table: “Disgusting.”

Everyone laughed.

There was a sudden rush of emotions that my 5-year-old brain could not comprehend. I only knew that none of these emotions felt very good. I did not know how to describe “beans” or “buns” to them. No one told me that I needed those words. Not even my English teacher.

That day, I did not finish my buns.

For the rest of the week, I sat at the same seat and left my food untouched. Red bean buns began piling up in our apartment pantry. I continued this routine until one day, a girl noticed that I didn’t take out my snack.

“Where’s your snackbox?” she asked. I didn’t bother to answer and just shook my head. I looked over at her snackbox: Goldfish crackers. “You want some?” she offered. I hesitated, but she still handed me a piece.

I stared down at my hand. The fish had a round body and a triangular tail. The edges were funky, and the smile was lopsided. I popped it in my mouth. The salt scratched my tongue and the cracker melted before I could take a proper bite. There were no colors, no burst of flavor – I tasted nothing at all. 

I grabbed my plastic bag, tore my Saran wrap, and took out my red bean buns. 

That day, I finished both.

Jackie Huang is a 16 year old writer, singer, and avid volunteer in community service. She was born and raised in Beijing, China, and is currently studying in Massachusetts. She particularly enjoys poetry and aims to use short pieces to reflect compelling issues. As a young writer, Jackie is still on the path to search for new experiences and opportunities. In her free time, she loves either spending time outdoors playing tennis or locked in her room all day reading and watching Youtube, depending on her mood.

If you want to read more of Jackie's work, check out her poems here on Risen: School by the fields and Timeline of hope