Shorts: The Asian American Anxiety
Helen Ngo, 16, she/her/hers
Daughter, con, ah.
When I was a girl your age, why, I went to the market all by myself. Would you believe that,
con? Hah, back in those days, no one would want to kidnap you, it would just be another mouth
to feed, hah, hah.
I would cook com, the rice, while Sister Xi would sweep the floor. And we didn’t have these
stoves or gas, no. We chopped wood, lit it up, and put a pot on top. I remember, I must have been
so young, I was so bored from waiting for the rice to cook, I climbed on top of a tree. It was a
huge tree and those trees were different from the ones at your school today. It was probably
about that tall, you see that one outside?
But mine had branches from down low, like this. And the branches were evenly spaced out so we
could climb it easily. Hah, if I tried to do that today, you would laugh so hard and pee in your
pants to see your big mom climb such a tree! Hah, I would probably fall right down and create an
earthquake with my landing! Hah hoo! Hah? Con, why are you laughing so hard? Are you saying
I’m fat? You shouldn’t be laughing that hard! Ah, I know it’s funny. Oh, but I was so young
back then, young and thin, like skin on bone. Like chopstick. We barely had enough food, and
we had to walk everywhere. Can you picture me like that, con?
On the tree I would sometimes eat the fruit. Hah, we weren’t that clean like today, con. Oh, I
would just bring my mouth up to a dangling fruit and eat it on the branch. Ah, but we had to be
careful and watch for Uncle Toan. The ripe and sweet fruit were to be sold. Oh, he would beat us
if he caught us eating the good fruits. Lay down and point our butts up in the air while he got his
belt. Huh? Oh, I don’t remember how much it hurt. Don’t worry con, it was common back then.
Ah hah hah, I remember, hah hah, during that one time I climbed on the tree, I bent down to
check on the cooking rice. I was a dumb little girl, I bent too far, like this, and I fell off of my
branch! Hah! I was going down and down and down, until, oop! A branch caught onto my thin,
little shorts like this! My shorts started to tear, I continued to fall, and I hit the floor, bam! Ah
but, con, those shorts saved my life, I only had a scratch on my knee. Right here, you see?
Hah, hah, I should have kept those shorts and framed it, right con? Hang it up on the wall, right
over there, for you to see. If it weren’t for those shorts, I wouldn’t be here, hah, you wouldn’t be
here! Wah, how did we survive back then? It must have been a miracle for all of us to be so alive
and healthy today. Well maybe not healthy, hah, look at my belly. Hah, hah.
Wah, life back then was so much fun. You can’t climb on trees like a monkey the way I did. You
can’t eat the fruit off of a tree without washing it. Oh, but it was so much harder, con. Life was
so much harder. Aiyah, stop rolling your eyes! Hah, you want to know how? Let me tell you.
Hungry bellies. Diarrhea. Worms. War. Prison. Death. Father, uncle, brother not coming home.
Life seemed like it would be so short. Everything seemed so short. Our meals, our heights, our
family, our time, hopes, future. Our lives.
* * *
I know you think I don’t see, con. You think I don’t know. You think I’m dumb and old. But,
con, I see. Tsk, tsk, there you roll your eyes again! What do I see? Aiyah, where do I start?
Those books in that backpack that pulls down your shoulders, those pictures in that phone that
pulls down your eyes, those eyes on that face you wish to change, and the silence, tsk, the
silence! The silence you yell so loud it deafens my old ears, the silence that drowns, the silence
that tastes bitter, the silence that blinds.
I know why your eyes roll. You afraid. Afraid you wasted my sacrifices. You roll your eyes at
my past because you don’t want to be reminded. Reminded of the pain it took for you to stand
here in this country. You afraid of your grades, your obedience, taekwondo, piano, math, it’ll all
never be enough. You afraid you never enough.
All that, they are only short things, con. Short, short like me. Short, short like my pain back as a
child. Short, because they will pass.
I see because I saw.
So please, con, promise me.
Don’t waste your heart on what is short.
* * *
That’s what I wish she would say. I wish that’s how that story always ended.
I wished it so bad, I could almost hear her voice every time the scene ran through my head, each
time twisting a deeper stab in my heart.
My mother washes the dishes quietly while I sit on the kitchen table crying. I stare at a sheet of
paper that seems to be my price tag, the little transparent drops of tears staring at me like
I’m sorry mother.
I disappointed you.
I fell short.
“Unity: I Am Not to Blame”
Mankind is simple; they love finding people to blame. So how did they deal with COVID-19? They blamed the innocent minority. Virus? The Asians. Violence? The blacks. “Chinese virus” and “Black threat”, I hated those terms. I wanted the audience to reflect upon society’s blameful reactions with my piece. A pandemic unites all people against a common enemy right? No matter who you are, the virus will affect you the same. Then why do we blame each other? I wanted people to see there’s a better way to deal with this virus instead, I wanted to look past the sunshine and rainbows politics and media spread, and I wanted to show the reaction that the world automatically gives, but never sees. We deal with issues by blaming others and COVID-19 is no special case.
But there’s hope! This piece can also show what could have been. Imagine people realizing that the world’s health is bigger than society’s labels. Imagine crossing labels out, unifying, and helping each other for a better future. This is what we want our kids to grow up and see! But first we have to see it ourselves; we have to see that we’re all the same underneath the mask.
Follow Helen on Instagram @helengo.x