“Made in China”


Nevin peeled off a sticker from his binder and posted it to my forehead. “MADE IN CHINA,” it said. I faked a nonchalant laugh, but my blushing face betrayed my feeling of defeat. All that I had strived for seemed to have been futile. What Nevin meant as a harmless joke had wounded me deeply.The arrival of adolescence coincided with my arrival in America. It was during that crucial time when the standards of cool became meaningful to me. The essence of cool meant the ability to conform. As the only Asian (and only immigrant) in my suburban Michigan middle school, I was anything but a conformist. So I strived to assimilate. Yet with “MADE IN CHINA,” seven months after my arrival, I realized people still saw me as different.I explained to Nevin in broken English that I did not want to be labeled as different, as if I did not belong. “You’re not different,” Nevin responded lightheartedly. “You’re unique!””U-nique.” I slowly sounded out the word as my sadness turned to curiosity.”Yeah, unique, like something that’s umm…special.” Nevin fumbled to explain himself. “Well, I guess it does mean different, but in a good sense…”Nevin’s words stayed with me for weeks. How was I supposed to establish myself in this country if I couldn’t Americanize? How can one be cool if she is different from everybody else?As time went on, I began to realize that there was nothing wrong with being different from my peers. I was touched by the way my friends taught me English by drawing cartoons on my notebook, and liked the fact that I could explain communist society or teach simple Chinese phrases to classes and friends. I slowly learned to take pride in my uniqueness.The three years of middle school in Michigan were blissful for me. I felt known and appreciated by every friend, classmate, and teacher in the small, tight-knit community – but this feeling of acceptance would not last forever. After several moves between Michigan and Kansas, I finally settled in California during my sophomore year of high school. I was no longer the only Asian in the school. All of a sudden, I felt like a nobody.But I discovered in California that other characteristics now set me apart. I was from the Midwest now, not just from China. My values, liberal back in Michigan, seemed conservative in Davis. While I dropped most of my foreign accent, I still spoke with a touch of quirkiness that set me apart; my new friends teased me all the time for using the word “pop” when referring to soda. My exuberance led me to athletics, art, and interests interests in humanities and social sciences. I realized that it is these qualities that make me unique, not my ethnicity.Looking back on the “MADE IN CHINA” incident, I realize that Nevin gave me more than a label that day. His words will always be my motto: I am unique.

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