When I was born, my parents gave me a Chinese name,
One that wore like a Made in China label across my chest,
Which didn’t bother me
Until I realised the connotations ‘Made in China’ had in today’s society;
Until I realised how similar the oriental syllables of my name sounded to the ‘ching chongs’ sung mockingly on the school playground.
When people asked me where I was from, I told them,
I was born and raised there,
Always making it a point to slip in my birth,
A way of compensation for this name that does not sit flush with their tongues,
As if spending anything less than 100% of my life there deems me too much of a foreigner,
Of an immigrant.
So later on, I decided to change my name to something simpler,
Something that didn’t play touch-and-go with peoples’ tongues;
Something that could be found in the dictionary.
I can’t tell you how happy it made me the day Microsoft Word finally stopped putting a red line under my name.
My mother always told me the most basic form of respect you can show someone
Is to learn how to pronounce their name, properly,
So I wonder what it says about me that I no longer speak the name I was given-
Pushed to the back of my throat, pushed off of my birth certificate,
Syllables I still can’t speak without tasting childhood racism.
It is hard to love a country
When you are reminded of racial slurs more than you are of its customs and traditions.
I am the girl who does not know how to talk about her culture without it becoming a rant about racism-
Being told to go home in a place I call home,
Disparaged about in complaints of stolen jobs and claims of rising house prices,
Like it is a crime to have fled for something better.
I want to tell them about my mother,
Who gave up leather heels
So her daughter could run barefoot on green grass;
Surrendered her voice
So her daughter could speak a new language,
Gave her a Chinese name
If for no other reason than as a souvenir
From a land she will never know well enough to call home.
So when they tell me my last name will always wear like a tail,
Following onto every form, every application,
Stamped across resumes and IDs,
The last bit of me caught in the bamboo ceiling,
Tell them this language that stumbles so hesitantly off of my tongue
Is spoken fluently by over one billion people.
I have worried so much about being marginalised
That I forget this culture I am trying to dissociate myself from
Is the one that propagated today’s 40 billion dollar tea industry,
And this country I don’t know how to appreciate
Was the one to give me the ink and paper I so cherish today.
Remind me then, before it is too late, that there is no shame in the menial jobs my parents worked to provide for a family;
Remind me it is not my place to apologise when people pronounce my name wrongly,
And please, remind me to ask my grandmother for her tea eggs recipe.
I changed my name from a Chinese one to an English one,
And now, I am praying that I have not lost my identity in the process.