20 minutes into our Calculus test and the kid behind me taps me on the shoulder. I know better than to think he’s flirting, he just wants help.
“What’s the answer to number seven?”
I want to tell him to figure it out himself. I want to explain to him that if he had paid any attention in class he could do it out without me. I want to yell at him for assuming that I have already done the problem. But instead, I do none of these things. I hand over the answer and present him my work, let him steal my steps and copy my derivatives so the teacher can’t even tell the difference. He thanks my skin.
I am sick. Sick of the way my yellow skin is mistaken as a sign that reads “I’m good at math and know how to play the piano.” The problem with my skin is it tells all my secrets. I love math and I started piano lessons at age 5.
But my skin doesn’t tell the full story. I love reading and art too and in the 5th grade, I exchanged the piano for a clarinet.
My skin screams anime and ‘Most Popular’ on Pornhub. It comes with the subtitle “Small, petite Asian’s first time” and a screen cap that suggests incest. My skin is Rated R for Restricted, E for Everyone, N for Nerdy, and P for Pathetic, it is an entire alphabet of stereotypes.
But my skin is also full of heritage. Full of holidays and traditions you don’t even know about, full of eleven different types of noodles cooked twenty-seven ways, full of yellow. Yellow like the sun, like the color your voice makes when you smile, yellow like me.
My skin knows how to use chopsticks.
My skin knows when to laugh during a Chinese movie.
My skin loves mooncakes.
But my skin doesn’t always know the answers to the math test, my skin doesn’t have every Beethoven piece memorized, my skin is not the model minority. My skin belongs to a human who’s scared of heights and doesn’t like candy canes. Don’t patronize me when I get an answer wrong, don’t laugh when I bring rice to school, don’t suggest my middle name is any less valid than yours.
No, my mother did not throw silverware down the stairs to chose her own name, she was given it by a mother and a father just like yours. She is not a doctor or an engineer, she is a photographer and a teacher.
Maybe her skin doesn’t know the difference between a predicate nominative and an adjective, but it is still beautiful.
Dark, coarse hair is beautiful. Small, squinty eyes are beautiful.
My skin may not be perfect, but I am happy to live in it.