FIRST PRIZE - "Little Quirks: Finding Home" by Camille
My phone rings as a WeChat notification comes in. The familiar Hanzi fades in across the screen, brushstrokes that form words I can’t quite grasp, yet that are in a language that is so deeply entwined within my heart it anchors me - in those two little green bubbles of text that seem to possess eyes, I find home.
The timer my mom set for the steamed buns beeps as I step in through the front door. The house is bathing in the smell of baozi, and memories of hand-wrapping them with ma when I was little trickle in. “Don’t forget to take your shoes off, and put slippers on!” Even after 18 years in this house, she still never fails to remind me. I slip my feet in the plastic bunny slippers, and head in. As I sit at the counter and watch my mom’s rough hands folding the baozi so delicately and efficiently, I smile and let the smell of home envelop me.
A notification came in again. This time, I’m afraid to glance over. I know it’s my math grade. I don’t know how to tell ma and pa. In this home, this two or three-digit number will determine whether my parents are proud or not of me today.
The entrance bell to Kim Phat dings as I walk in. The first thing I see is an auntie in front of me, tapping a watermelon as she holds it dearly to her ear, focus making crinkles appear on the sides of her mouth. I walk past her, and down the aisles of packages marked by Hanzi. I smile. This feels like home.
Little quirks, little pains, little smiles, and I close the door behind me because these are my home.
SECOND PRIZE - "A Tale of Pride & Prejudice" by Sophie Lu
The musty aroma of magazine paper perfumed the air as I settled onto the floor armed with stacks of “American Girl” catalogs. I flipped to the “Create Your Own” spread and began pondering. Blonde, with blue eyes and freckles. Or maybe wavy caramel locks and hazel eyes. Well, my birthday wasn’t for another month, so I had time.
As it often does, retrospection tinged this seemingly innocent memory several shades darker. Like catching previously missed clues while rereading a mystery, my older self saw what naivete had overlooked. How every model held a custom doll that looked like her, yet the thought never crossed my mind. How even at age seven I understood that there was an image deemed superior, and it wasn’t mine.
I could live my idealism vicariously, but I couldn’t alter my actual appearance. That left me to conform behaviorally. I refused traditional food for lunch. I complained about spending Sundays at Chinese school while others played. When mom laid out a qipao for Chinese New Year, one would’ve thought it was an orange dinosaur costume by my disdain. My culture felt like the world’s worst kept secret - while the outside screamed the obvious, I devoted myself to relegating it to a mere facade from inside.
This continued for much of my youth… until it didn’t. Whether it was moving schools where I was one of many like me, relating to others’ shared experiences, or increased representation in media, I began imparting accountability upon the guilty parties. People, for acting like my culture was an indignity to be hidden away. Me, for being their willing accomplice. My language, my culture, my heritage - all are inextricable from my identity, and I will never pay the price of allowing someone to rob me of it again.
THIRD PRIZE - "Foreign Culture" by Alina Gao
Culture is complicated to me. Before, it was red banners ripped down and hidden when friends came over, angrily throwing Chinese lesson books across the room, and declaring I hate C-pop. Culture was crowded Asian markets and white kids frowning at my thermos full of HóngShāo Ròu. They rejected that, but admired the “fun” parts of Chinese culture like Dàbáitù Naitáng. They thought culture was something you could pick and choose, only taking the parts they liked and ignoring “gross” parts. I was left isolated with my ChūnLián and JīZhua.
Culture is JìngYèSī stumbling from my lips, parents watching with shame. I’ve never worn a Qipao, and had to Google the name for it. The food is foreign to me, only recognizable as the Westernized versions like saucy ChéngJī and deep fried DànJuan. When people ask me about my culture, I don’t know what to say. Why would they expect me to know? They ignored me when I tried to tell them about SunWuKong and how to actually pronounce nihao. Kids expected me to be able to recite Chinese poems off the top of my head. I had nothing to show them, because my culture only existed through what they knew and wanted.
Culture is everlasting, the essence living on inside me. I may be Western-influenced, but I’ll never lose my Chinese accent, not even as the few words I know trip out of my mouth. I may not know how to write Shūfa, but that won’t stop the need to act when I hear of Asian hate crimes. Culture means foreverness, in the way that my parents have passed down recipes for Jītāng and books filled with ZhōngguóShénhuà to me. It may be half-Canadian-half-Asian culture, but it’s an infinite and integral part of me.