FIRST PRIZE - "Little Quirks: Finding Home" by Camille

Ding. 

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. 

Ding. 

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. 

Ding. 

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. 

Ding. 

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.

SHORT ESSAY CONTEST WINNERS

Prompt: Write about an experience you've had related to your own or another culture, and how it has impacted you

(click on each piece title to read it)

***ties are in no particular order, simply the order in which we received those submissions

GRAND PRIZE:

HIGH SCHOOL AWARDS:

Second Prize (tie):

Third Prize (tie):

Honorable Mentions:

MIDDLE SCHOOL AWARDS:

First Prize (tie):

Second Prize (tie):

Third Prize:

Honorable Mention:

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Dr. Margaret Baker

(Ann Arbor, MI)

Margaret Baker is a private writing tutor and college essay consultant from her home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She graduated from Princeton with a degree in Comparative Literature, received an M.A. from Harvard in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, then a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature at the University of Michigan. Privileged to teach English in China for several years, she has also written one children's book with award-winning illustrator Mark Ludy (When I Was a Girl I Dreamed), and is the proud parent, with her husband David, of five children, who now range from 14-22. She loves reading (especially classic children's books), swimming, walking, and playing from the American Songbook on the piano.

Mr. John Fitzsimmons

(Concord, MA)

John Fitzsimmons is a poet, folksinger and teacher who works at the Fenn School in Concord, Massachusetts. He graduated from UMass with an English degree and a minor in Chinese. He also attended the Beijing Teachers College. He is the author of three books of poetry and two books of essays. He has released three CD’s of music and is a noted performer on the New England music circuit. John is married to Denise Fitzsimmons and have raised their seven children in Maynard, Massachusetts.

Mr. Kena Gilmour

(Pomfret, CT)

Kena Gilmour is a humanities teacher and learning specialist at Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut. He attended The Kent School and recently graduated from Hamilton College, where he majored in Government and minored in Women's and Gender Studies. As his Pomfret School introduction says, "Kena is passionate about both English and History, and analyzing the experiences of marginalized and minoritized groups through these lenses. He also cares deeply about DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) work, and how these practices can be brought into positions of leadership and athletics."

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Dr. Amanda Mathieson

(Pittsburgh, PA)

Dr. Amanda Mathieson, who currently serves as an elementary principal in the North Allegheny School District, is a former reading specialist, learning support and elementary teacher. Her work in diversity, equity, and inclusion as the former chairperson of the North Allegheny School District Diversity Committee has expanded to serving as a Pennsylvania Area Diversity Council (PADC) Advisory Board member in addition to serving on the Education Committee for the National Diversity Council. Dr. Mathieson has recently worked with students and parents on initiatives through the Anti-Defamation League's "No Place for Hate" ® program, presenting opportunities for students to actively engage in culturally conscious learning opportunities and providing staff with training in culturally responsive instructional practices. Together with her husband, Glenn Mathieson, Dr. Mathieson is the proud parent of two adult daughters: one residing in Manchester, England, and the other in Savannah, Georgia.

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Mrs. Yujun Pian

(New York City, NY)

Yujun Pian is a senior data and information management professional working in an international organization. She has travelled and worked in different capacities in China, South-east Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and America, leading and assisting missions of strategic planning and operationalize information and data to support peace building, humanitarian assistance, human rights, legal investigation, sustainable development and decision-making. Ms. Pian is a seasoned professional in multi-culture environment, has deep understanding of the importance of respect to diversity and culture identity, and has been managing teams with members coming from different countries representing a wide variety of cultural background.

Sharing culturally diverse stories to educate, inspire, and empower others.

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