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Photo ofBrathna Thai

Up until the middle of 6th grade, I used to think that I didn't want to be Asian anymore. My school wasn't that diverse and I used to get picked on for being one of the few Asian students in a primarily white school. Every day I would walk into my school and see nothing but white students, their eyes all locked onto me just because I was different.

Other students would throw racial slurs or make stereotypes about me, saying things like I was Chinese, good at math, or I was a violin or piano player. Usually, this would happen before or in between classes when no teachers were around. I would also get bullied for the lunch my mom picked me because of the smells and looks. I can recall a time when I brought Pad Thai to school and some kids said I was eating worms. Growing up my family struggled financially so I couldn’t afford a lot of things, like the bullies who were all fitted out with Nike shirts and shorts. 

I knew I was bullied because I was different, but I always questioned why they had to bully me. I wished that I could just wake up one day and be white because I figured maybe if I wasn't Asian that they would stop picking on me. It was hard for me to accept I was Asian, I resorted to saying things “If I was white and brought chicken nuggets to school I wouldn’t get bullied.” Being one of the few Asian students was tough, it felt so lonely. I had no group to fit in with.

I thought that middle school would be the same, I expected to get picked on by the same kids. But on the first day of 6th grade, I noticed the school seemed to be a lot more diverse. At my new school students were a whole color spectrum from white, black, bronzed, olive, and everything in between. I felt like I could fit in. And while at the beginning of the year a few of the same kids tried to bully me, it stopped soon after a group of kids stood up for me for the first time. For the first time, I had a group of friends. 

My parents realized that I actually had a small group of friends, something that I had never really had before. My parents were eager to meet them so they asked me to invite them over for dinner one night. My new friends came over that night. They were ethnically Vietnamese, Chinese, Khmer, and Japanese. My mom served Salaw Machu Kroueng, a sour soup. The difference and distinct thing about my culture is that there's a lot of very intense flavors typically either savory, salty, or sour. Most of my friends kept asking for more and more of the rich-tasting soup. All of it came as a surprise to me considering no one’s been in awe of my food before. After that night I became more appreciative of our unique cuisine. It gave me something to brag about because some people may have never heard of some of these dishes and I got to call them my own.

After this evening I realized that being different wasn’t so bad after all. I used to look at being Asian as a curse but now I see being Asian as a gift. I've come too, to believe that whatever race you're born as is a gift. I'm curious to learn about more nationalities and ethnicities. Let me leave you with this question: what is something that you can brag about from your culture or heritage, maybe it is your food or a festival, or whatever else it is. Always embrace it instead of driving it away because there are endless possibilities that can come out if you embrace your culture. 

© Brathna Thai. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.