I’m sure a lot of us have experienced some form of bullying in our lives, in one way, shape or form. Whether it be physical altercations on the playground, verbal harassment, online keyboard warriors or whatever, we’ve seen it happen. Or we know someone it happened to. Or worse, we were the bully. I’m not going to pretend I’m innocent of anything because I AM a mean girl, I’ve owned up to it, but I’ve never gone out of my way to be mean to someone without just cause. I’m not saying anything I’ve ever done was justified, I’m just saying I didn’t come charging in unprovoked. That being said and out of the way, the topic I want to focus on my own bullying I’ve faced growing up and how I dealt with it since I get asked pretty often how I don’t let what others think of me or say to me, affect me.
I grew up on Long Island, in a predominantly white neighborhood. While I changed schools three times because my parents moved from town to town for a bit looking for a place to finally settle down on, all three times I was the only Asian kid in my grade and school district. It wasn’t until I got to high school where I saw there were other Asians, but in other grades, but even then, it was only 1-2 per grade. The point was, I was definitely a minority and of course, easily singled out cause I stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn't have my own "strength in numbers" to fight off the incoming racism I was to face.
I didn’t look like other kids and I certainly didn’t dress like them either. My mom made most of my clothes growing up because we were poor, or I wore hand me downs given to us from other families and donations from nearby churches. I loved the clothes my mom made for me - she made me a lot of super cute dresses from time to time, some really girly, some really vintage but always over the top because extra runs in our blood. She would either save up to buy a cute dress pattern at the local craft store or try and make her own patterns for dresses for me. I remember when bellbottoms were the new trend, we couldn’t afford to buy jeans like every other girl in school so my mom bought glittery fabric and made my own bellbottom pants for me to wear to school.
I also grew up in front of the camera; my parents took a lot of pictures of us and had photographer friends who would also photograph us in their spare time when our families got together. Because of this, I would like to say I developed a pretty healthy sense of self-esteem and confidence, despite my parents also putting me down from time to time but that’s how Asian parents are, I’d like to say. They brag about you to other families behind your back, but to your face they like to shade you on how “ugly, fat, dumb, etc” you are. It’s supposed to keep you humble so your head doesn’t get too big. They were trying to keep me grounded.
So where does the bullying come in with all of this? I think I was about 3-4. I remember crying on my first day of school when my mom let go of my hand. I thought she was never coming back and that she left me in a building full of white people because I was such a bad kid that she no longer wanted me. Imagine my face at the end of the day when she came back. Relieved that she reconsidered. I got used to school after a while and enjoyed it a lot. I liked the routine and I liked my classmates. Until one day, we got a new student. I’ll never forget this kid. I’ll never understand it really either. He was a brand new student coming in, just like I was, and the first day in, this little Black boy pulled his eyes to the side on the playground and sang “ching chang chong!” I don’t know why but I immediately felt embarrassed and ashamed of my eyes. Up until that point, it had never occurred to me that I was different. That I was Asian. Nor felt bad about it. This kid had the power to make me feel like shit for something I couldn’t control. I went home and told my mom about it and my parents, not knowing really how to deal as first generation immigrant parents, told me to get over it. They acted as if I was a big baby for being upset about it. I remember being mad about it for them not being on my side and sticking up for me. Looking back, it was probably a harsh way to deal with a child explaining to you that they were being bullied, and probably not the right thing to do, but my parents were also right. Yes, at that young age, I wouldn’t have understood it but in retrospect, it is really stupid. I had let this kid have power over me when I could have easily taken my power back by not letting him see that it affected me. But I wasn’t that strong at the time at such a young age.
Long story short though, one day I was playing with some Play-Doh in class and he was still bullying me so I got really angry and pounded down on the Play-Do so hard I broke my jade bracelet as it slammed against the table-top. Horrified and worried that my mom would kill me when she found out what I had done when she picked me up, I immediately started crying. Loudly. I think that moment of vulnerability struck something in him and from that day on, he was never mean to me ever again. We ended up being friends for the rest of the year.
In another school district, I experienced bullying on the schoolbus growing up. Every so often there would be a boy or girl who thought they were so hardcore and for some reason it was always the same thing with the eyes pulled to the side singing “ching chang chong.” My real name being Chinh didn’t help either. Honestly though, I do want to know, where do these kids get this from? I didn’t see this in any shows on TV growing up, this blatant racism towards Asians as comedy. I want to attribute it to these kids learning it from their parents or something because I just don’t understand where kids as young as 4 learn to tease others with such racist remarks like that.
I remember though in high school, I did get my revenge on one kid. By this age, I had grew a lot more confidence in how I handled myself. He came up to me during my lunch period with a group of his boys and tried to ask me out looking all tough in front of his peers. But I’m not dumb and I don’t forget, and my level of pettiness knows no bounds. I called him out for what he had done years ago and said to him that once upon a time, I was Ching Chang Chong but now that puberty had set in and he’s probably watching Asian porn and catching some of that yellow fever, now he’s looking for someone to love him long time. Well guess what you little bitch, I don’t play that way. Get to stepping. He walked away with his tail between his legs and never spoke to me again.
These were just some of the racist bullying I experienced growing up. I still experience it to this day as well. A few years ago I was taking the subway and I walked into a car full of teenagers. One girl loved the way I looked and I could tell she loved the nerdy Sailor Moon getup I was wearing. But her alleged friends noticed too and immediately started mocking her for her weeb interests and then me for my slanty eyes. I felt bad for the girl that she was stuck in this situation with such ignorant and shitty friends.
But there’s not just that. As I got older and puberty took over and I slowly started settling into my own sense of style and played a chameleon with different looks over the years, I would also garner girl bullies who liked to take shots at my appearance too. And they would be my own peers. Yes, Asian girls can be bullies too. I had girls go so far as to steal my photos and post them online in a forum trying to garner strangers into guessing if I was a man or a woman. I actually found it flattering because I mean, drag queens are still QUEENS. But people can be relentless. They wrote me essays of how ugly I was and would leave backhanded compliments and comments all over my Myspace photos. They would tell me that if I couldn’t handle their (unsolicited) ‘criticism,’ then I shouldn’t model. They would chase me all over the internet following me from one social media to the next. But they would also blatantly copy my photos, pose for pose and wardrobe for wardrobe. I ignored it all and went on with my life. I understood what they were trying to do by breaking me down but honestly, what did I care what someone else thought of me? I only cared what I thought of me. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t wear half the things I do, or do half the things I do in public. You could be the ripest, juciest, best looking peach. And there will always be someone who hates peaches.
So why did these people do these things to me? Boredom? For sport?
As you grow older, you start to learn why people do the things they do. And that 99% of the time, it has nothing to do with you. A lot of bullying comes from a person’s inner demons. They project what they hate about themselves onto you. They thrive off making another party feel like shit, so that they can feel better about themselves. It’s a terrible thing to do, really, but when you’re that damaged, what can I say? They feed off your pain to numb their own. A lot of it is their own personal insecurities. There is no reasoning to talking to these people sometimes.
Everyone is different so I can’t sit here and tell you to just ignore it and be strong. Kids can be really mean. Girls can be sharks and snakes. Some people just don’t have a good enough support system to be able to fight past the blows. They lack the confidence, the self-love, the strength to fight off what gets thrown at them. But think about this. You may not have the power to control what those bullies say to you. But you do have the power to control how you react to it. Why are you upset about it? Why do you care about what they say? Is their opinion of you important to you? Is this worth your time being upset over? Will this matter 5 years from now?
It’s hard to answer those questions definitely when you’re a kid. Especially since hormones amplify your teenage emotions tenfold. It’s why a heartbreak feels like the end of the world when you’re 16. And you’re angry at the world and think everyone’s against you. But by the time you’re 25, you learn that life goes on. Stiffen up that upper lip, buttercup. You just gotta get through it. And you will.
I’m proud to say that despite all the bullying and bullshit I grew up with, I still dress wacky to this day. I still do the things I love to do regardless of what people think of me. And I think I’m doing just fine because there’s no one you should be comparing yourself to except your former self to measure growth and progress. I channeled all that negative energy thrown at me into making sure I lived my life the way I wanted it and did what made me happy. And that has made all the difference. I absolutely love my life, my house, my husband, my family life, my friends, where I'm headed, what I've been so blessed with, everything I've worked for, everything. So make sure you’re living your life the way YOU want, not the way someone else thinks you should be living it. Otherwise, what are you living for?