I still remember the joys and fears of middle school. I was a short little boy, much smaller than my friends, whose biggest concern was getting a pimple or carded while trying to watch American Pie. Now that I am nearing 30, I realize that very little has changed. I still occasionally get carded at rated-R movies, which is not as flattering as it may seem, and seriously, at what age do pimples stop coming? I don’t know if I can handle another decade of them.
Middle school, as many of you know, is all about being cool and fitting in with the popular kids, and I definitely wanted to run with that crowd. I would have sold my soul and been the token Asian minority if it meant a shot at the crown. Next to being the president of the United States or Sir Mix a Lot, it was the best thing you could be as a kid—cool. And that’s precisely why I joined the multicultural club and Earth club, to hang out with the popular, slightly taller, attractive students. But as it turned out, all of the cool guys joined sports and cool girls became cheerleaders.
I realized my grave mistake and accepted that my life was going to suck for the next three years. Fortunately, multicultural club turned out to be really fun (not Earth club though, which was full of hippy kids that played around in dirt…soooo elementary school). We learned about diversity, tolerance and leadership. We also learned different world dances (I learned a Russian circle dance) and performed them during school assemblies, right after the cheerleaders in order to maintain the hierarchy of coolness.
There were some Asian kids in the club, dressed in Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica brand clothing, who performed break dancing. They all decided to ink “AP” on their hands with ballpoint pens. It stood for Asian Pride. They wanted to openly celebrate their culture and heritage and let everyone know what made them unique.
The AP movement didn’t last long though, our school administrators quickly put an end to it. The students were told that they weren’t being inclusive or that it might offend non-Asian students. “This could really damage the self-esteem of our White students; many of them can’t break dance!” Maybe if the AP kids had also written BP, WP, DP, XP and OP, that would have been ok.
My young self was fine with this decision because I truly believed promoting “Asian Pride” was one of the stupidest things ever. It was tantamount to having a sign on your back that said “kick me.” I definitely did not want to get kicked, nor did I want to stand out for being Asian. I ranked the AP kids right below Earth club members and did everything I could to be cooler, better and more popular than them. It worked. I was never kicked in middle school, not even by accident. But the experience set the tone for the majority of my teenage life. I continually sought for a sense of belonging which I always believed meant being less Asian.
I realize now that the AP kids had a lot more courage and confidence than me. Asian Pride was never meant to offend or exclude anyone, and multiculturism is more than learning how to dance like a Russian. AP started because a group of students felt like they didn’t fit in with Earth Club, a sports team or the cheerleading squad. They needed another outlet to express their culture and experiences so they formed their own group.
I think about this memory now because in many ways, it reminds me of the spirit of the holidays. It’s a time when we celebrate love and goodwill, and appreciate the inherent gifts people carry with them. I love that people of all backgrounds welcome one another into their home and hearts, and no one feels left out—not even the Earth club. The holidays feel a lot like what middle school should have been (and I really could have used Santa’s help with pimples).
What was middle school like for you? Were you one of the popular kids? If so, can I be your friend?
That’s it for 2013. Thanks for reading and sticking with the blog. I hope to keep growing it and add more content in 2014. Stay tuned. Until then, have a safe and happy holiday everyone. Asian Pride!