When I was 5 years old, Scott Jones tapped me on the shoulder as we rehearsed for a kindergarten production of "Deep in the Heart of Texas."
"I don't like you," he said, "You're Chinese."
I'm 22-years-old now, but 5-year-old me is still traumatized. And 5-year-old me is a big part of me today.
The funny thing about 5-year-old Lulu was that she didn't know what Chinese meant. Before Scott tapped me on the shoulder that day, I was blissfully unaware that anything about my being was decidedly different. Sure, I would've figured it out. But maybe it would've been less jarring. That day, I learned what Chinese meant.
It meant different. It meant lesser. For me, at the time, it literally meant hated.
I've spent the last decade and a half being acutely aware of who I am. And a lot of that, a painful amount of that, is predicated on my race. Ever since he told me that he didn't like me, I think I started looking for ways to not be Chinese, or at the very least, to downplay it. Because I couldn't ever really hide it.
Ever since Scott Jones told me that he didn't like me, I never forgot for a moment that my citizenship would always be hyphenated. I am a prefix. A qualifier. Something about me and my Americanness is impure. It is not whole.
My ethnic identity, the one I can't run away from, the one I can't deny, the one that manifests itself in my hair color, my eye shape, my stature, even, has figured prominently in every aspect of my life. I was told that being Asian was why I excelled at school. I was told that being Asian was why I was a talented pianist. And lately, I am being told that being Asian is why I am attractive.
It's not me. It's just what Scott Jones didn't like about me that people see.
It's like I've been boiled down to my race. It's like I'm in constant competition with myself - see me, not the billion other people who supposedly look just like me. It's like I've been passed through a sieve, and the particles that got through, the finer essence of me, is nothing more than my cultural heritage.
"Asians are hot," I'm told. It's something of a ridiculous gripe for me to have, I'm told. Tinder, an app that is implicitly shallow, inherently dependent on physicality, can't be held to that high of a standard. People who swipe right on me find me attractive, supposedly. But at this point, it feels like something even more base. It's not me — it's my race.
I've gotten a lot of gross shit on Tinder. But the grossest shit always comes back to that aspect of my being. "I like my Asians freaky," one man told me.
"How do you like your eggs?" "Over easy." "How do you like your Asians?" "Freaky."
It's as though I can be customized to your pleasure. My overall categorization as an object is Asian, Chinese if I'm lucky — but I can be specified, tailored to your interests. At the end of the day, it feels like I'm not seen as an individual. I'm just part of a cohort of exoticism.
I don't think men who approach me in this way see it as racism. I guess that's the scariest part. It's more of a talking point — something to fill the uncomfortable abscess that is left by anonymity and awkward first messages. You've got nothing to lose right? So go big or go home. Get out there. Get noticed. Say "sum ting wong" because at least that will elicit a response.
For the longest time, I thought that being Chinese made it impossible for me to be attractive. I could be desirable, maybe, but more for the novelty of having a souvenir from a foreign land than for me. Do you know how many men have told me, "Never hooked up with an Asian before"?