« Back to Yak Board Archive Site

Yellow (not the Coldplay song)

I used to hate the color yellow. It was ugly, cheap, deceiving. It was the color of my skin.

I was born in Hanoi, Vietnam. Growing up, my father would give me warnings, “do not befriend the Vietnamese, stay away from orientals.” He encouraged me to build relationships with white people. I was put in the mindset that I was to marry a white man, a “real” man. To my father, we were at the bottom of the hierarchy.

At the age of 6 we moved to America. It was my chance to escape.

By middle school, I was ashamed of speaking my native tongue. I studied English meticulously, careful to get rid of my accent. I wanted a new name, one my teachers could pronounce; as if a white name could conceal my yellow skin. I didn’t even want to identify as an Asian, forget an Asian American.

I had visited most of Southeast Asia as a child, but I can’t recall anything significant because I had decided that all of Asia was the same a long  time ago. Likewise, when a woman in Song Pan told me I looked Chinese, I took it with a grain of salt. All my life, I had tried to assimilate to American culture.

As the trip progressed, I continued to be mistaken for a Chinese tourist. And yet, generous Tibetan men would pay for our dinner. Vendors would give me discounts in Xīníng. I recall telling a man selling tea that I couldn’t speak his language despite looking like a local; I was expecting to be shooed away. Instead, he poured me a cup of tea.

How have I turned a blind eye to a people that have so much to teach me about kindness, selflessness, respect, and (most importantly) bartering? For 17 years, I had overlooked a people that had so much to teach me about myself.

Yellow has become the color of the flowers in my tea, the sun that shines on the hills of Lang Mu Si. One local said to me on my first day in Xīníng, “you cannot be an American.” She is right. I am an Asian American.