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It was dark and hot, and all I remember was going inside a bus with my family and saying goodbye to my relatives. My mom was holding me tight and I was tired. We were leaving Iriga City, Philippines to drive to the airport to fly to the United States for the first time.

My parents always worked hard for me and my sisters. Waking up early to prepare lunch for all three of us was one of the many things my parents did for my well-being. Lunch consisted of rice, Adobo, Lumpia, or Pancit Canton with a variety of snacks, which were put into my pink Nike lunch box. During lunch in elementary school, nobody really cared for what I brought to school. However, as the people grew, the oppression grew with them.

Growing up, I went to a predominantly Black and Asian elementary school. I never felt left out or different, since I had people to relate to. It was not until I moved away in 5th grade that things started to change. As I walked into the classroom on the first day of school, I realized that I was the only Asian girl.

As lunch came around, people would question what I brought from home, giving me many unusual looks as to why I would bring such foods to school. Many kids would then comment on how weird my lunch looked or how funny it smelled. One day after recess, someone asked me if they could try one of the snacks that I brought. I gave them a piece and after they tried it, they made a disgusted face and said, “You eat that?” Feeling embarrassed, I then stopped bringing my pink Nike lunch box to school.

There were many times during my fourteen years of residency in America when I felt alienated from my peers. Most of these experiences took place in middle school, specifically 8th grade. I was one of very few Asian Americans that attended my school. I sat with a group of “friends”; however, they were more like acquaintances. These acquaintances would constantly ask me offensive questions that involved my culture.

One day, I remember sitting with them in the lunchroom. Some questions they asked were, “Kaye, how do you eat rice with chopsticks? Do you eat it grain by grain?” or “Do you sit on the floor when you eat?” which was followed by laughter. Being asked these types of questions made me feel angry, and I pitied them for how ignorant they were. Looking back, I wish I had said something rather than laughed with them.

Another experience I had was my freshman year of high school. I was sitting with a close friend and I brought out a zip lock bag with bread inside of it. The bread had purple stuff in it called Ube. She saw me about to eat it and asked me, “Ew, what is that?” I told her it was just bread. She then questioned the Ube that was inside of the bread and proceeded to say, “I’m going to tell my sister that you’re eating play dough” and started laughing, continuing to make more jokes about my food.

Over the years, I have grown so much from my experiences. Since my relocation from the Philippines to the United States, I have encountered many challenges and obstacles. I never expected the overwhelming oppression or hardships to occur, but I’m glad they did. Those occurrences have shaped me into the person I am today. All of the kids who made fun of my lunch and all of the racial oppression I experienced will drive me to work harder every day to become better than what their stereotypes say I am. Now I embrace the cultural food that my parents make and buy for me because nothing can beat home-cooked meals for lunch.

© Kaye Valerie Petalio. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.