Those Golden Afternoons

On those golden afternoons, when the leaves on the trees dripped with warmth and the sky was clear enough to see the mountains in the distance, I would grab grandma’s rifle and sit in the grainy, depressed sofa on the veranda, wait for the neighborhood children to saunter by, and pretend to shoot them to death.

Grandma didn’t load her guns. I wasn’t sure if she actually had any bullets because if she did she would have killed Nora long before she died herself. I liked Nora because she made Grandma mad. Grandma said that Nora was the devil incarnate, come to punish her for her sins in a past life. Whenever she said that, I would ask Grandma what she did in her past life, but Grandma would ignore me and go somewhere in the house to clean her dentures.

On the weekends, Nora came out and sat with me, because all the kids stayed in on weekends, and I would be bored because there would be no one to shoot. We sat together and she told me the story of how she met her husband, and about all of the adventures he was having in the war. I liked those days, because I had never seen a war, and I thought it would be really fun to be in one. Nora didn’t like that I liked the war. She would tell me that war is bad and I would laugh and pretend to shoot her, and then she would slap me, and we would sit in silence until she broke into tears and went inside.

Nora came to Grandma’s house against every bit of resistance the old hag could conjure. She was my cousin, but old, and she came when her mama – my auntie – beat her when she fell in love with an army man and left her husband. Grandma found her sleeping on the couch one morning covered in sticky red marks and nearly shot her head off, except the rifle wasn’t loaded. She didn’t speak a word to Nora from that moment all the way to the moment she fell out of her high chair at dinner when I was nine and the sky was still and clear and perfect for a day on the veranda. From then on, it was just me and Nora and the rats that kept us company on those chilly nights.

Nora and I lived alone in Grandma’s house. It was nasty and the dust ate at everything that was good and pure, and neither of us had the basic instinct to sweep the place. When clouds covered the sky with a blanket of night, I stayed indoors and listened to Nora play the piano. She only played two songs. One of them was called “that fucking song”, and she would always mess it up. I liked that one, because it sounded like two fancy men in a fancy house, eating salad with a fork and accidentally stabbing their hands until eventually they both give up and Nora stomped upstairs to take a nap. The other one was slow and somber, and it filled the house with rain. Whenever Nora played this song, I would sit in the dining room and put my head down on the table and close my eyes. The chattering of the rats in the walls would stop for a second, and we would listen together, the rats and I, to Nora’s music.

On Fridays, Nora would bring home canned beans from the market. Beans were her favorite food, and so we would sit together and watch the stars and eat beans and talk about the war. It was colder there, she said. It chilled you to the core not just because of the wind, but also because of the death that hung over the battlefield at night, when it was silent and you felt alone no matter who was beside you. Her husband, James, wasn’t liking it very much, she said. She got letters from him, love letters, and every time she heard the rustling at the door she would cry because it meant that he was still alive.

I didn’t like James. He was taller than I was, and older too, which wasn’t fair. Nora met James when she was marrying another man, who was twenty years older than her and a fair bit richer too. James was at the wedding as a nobody, but Nora saw him and she remembered him, and later on she told him that she loved him, and then she left her husband and they got married, and then he went to the war, and then Nora came to Grandma’s. I memorized the whole story because it was short and she told it so often.

James sounded boring.

I told Nora I thought James sounded boring one time, and she said that he was, but that was part of what she loved about him. That he was nice and normal and plain, and so unlike people like auntie, or Grandma, or me. I laughed and continued to shoot the kids. Like that, she said. It didn’t matter to me, though. I was here and James was not, and so James was not a part of our universe. It was just Nora, and me, and Grandma’s house, and the children who passed us on those golden afternoons.


A month after I turned twelve, Nora told me that she was leaving to go to the war. That was a problem because I loved Nora. Nora was leaving because James missed her and he invited her to come live with him for a while, and she had agreed, but that would mean that I had to find another home. That was a problem too, because I didn’t have another home.

“Go live with your parents.”

Nora left the house and I waved, and I didn’t tell her I loved her, and I didn’t tell her that I had nowhere to go. I didn’t tell her anything. I watched her walk away, down the familiar dirt path, and disappear around the corner.


On those golden afternoons without Nora, I thought about suffocating myself. I perched on the railing of the veranda and held Grandma’s rifle with my right hand, balancing myself with my left, and waited for the kids to pass by. The kids were all coming home from school, sometimes alone and sometimes in groups of three, and always too loud. I would aim the rifle at them when I saw them, but I didn’t shoot because I was lonely and I kept thinking about Nora in the war. Sometimes, they would walk by in pairs, and when I saw that I did not aim my gun at all. There was something very delicate about the kids who walked in pairs, because they often did not talk, or if they did they spoke in whispers. I tried to listen to what they had to say that was so precious, but it just made me sad when the wind cloaked their words, and so I would go back inside to look for a place to hold my breath until my body begged me to live.

I bought canned beans and dry noodles from the market on weekends, using money that Grandma stored under her pillow. She was a paranoid woman, and did not like to keep her money in the bank, which was good because I had no intention to work, and neither did Nora. I took the money and I went and I bought enough canned beans and dry noodles for the whole week, and I would drink water from the tap and ignore the letters that came in the mail that told me I had to pay.

Nora promised she would write me letters, but I knew that she wouldn’t because Nora didn’t love me. She kept me at arm’s length even when we lived in the same room. So that was why, when I was touching myself one afternoon, I was startled to hear a rustle at the door followed by a curt knock. I pulled up my pants and looked across the living room to see what the commotion was, only to find an envelope half-sticking out from under the door and bent awkwardly across the bushy welcome mat. I waddled over and picked up the letter with my clean hand, and I saw that it was from Nora and it was addressed to me.

It smelled disappointingly like paper.

I ripped open this letter and I saw Nora’s writing, scratched out with tiny ink. It was loopy and clean, and long, too. I didn’t read it. I didn’t want to know about James and I didn’t want to know about the war, and I didn’t want to know how happy she was without me. I took it and I went upstairs to the study where I abandoned the letter in the piano bench.


The piano was dark wood and covered in dust, and Nora’s fingerprints on the keys were weeks old. Even so, I could hear her slow song as if she were playing it before my eyes.

Dm…dm dm…dm dm…dm dm…dm dm…dm dm…

I closed my eyes and listened for something like that now, something trapped in the chamber, some trace of love that did not belong to me.

I let my finger fall on the calloused ivory key. The sound was full and concussive and rang out through the house with an entitlement that offended my ears. There was a chattering in the walls as rats scrambled away from the source of the noise. I noticed how deflated the instrument was when the notes did not keep each other company.

Nora didn’t touch the piano when Grandma was alive but she would always gaze longingly at it over her books from across the study. She was out of school – she didn’t go much in the first place – but she tried to read books like the kind that educated people read. I didn’t go to school either, but that was because I didn’t care about being educated or reading books. Grandma said it was a waste of time, and all the kids would regret it, so I should stay home and wait until I’m old enough to work for Mr. Hunter, who runs the newspaper and sometimes disappears into Grandma’s room.


The first night without Grandma, Nora sat down at the piano and played that fucking song for eight hours. She walked out of the study with raw fingertips in the morning and fell asleep on the couch. When she woke up, we picked up Grandma and we carried her into the woods behind the house, and we left her in a small clearing where we thought God might be able to see her better and take her to heaven. After that, we went back to the house and didn’t speak about it again. We sat on the veranda and we laughed and laughed, and when it started to rain, we went inside and Nora played her slow song, and that was the first time the walls went silent.

I thought of all this as I listened to the note fade away. I thought about Nora, who was somewhere, and who left me alone with the ghost of her melodies. I felt myself get angry and slapped the keys. The notes bashed their heads against each other and disgraced the room with their incompatibility. I slapped the keys again, harder. Then again. Blast after blast, shot after shot, flew out and killed whatever echoes of Nora’s song lingered in the study. I slammed the piano cover shut and stomped out of the room, down the stairs, to the kitchen. I took a can of beans out of the cabinet and I threw it at the door. It made a thunk and dribbled across the floor before settling back at my feet. I stepped over it, grabbed the rifle by the couch, and walked outside to sit on the veranda.


It was late in the afternoon now, and the sun was dripping off of the leaves the way it always does just before everything goes dark. I stared down the dirt path leading to the road, which was overgrown with bushes and vines, and listened to the familiar voices of children screeching delightfully nearby. The air smelled just as fresh as the day before, and the day before that, and before that too. The sky was clear, and the mountains in the distance stood like barricades between this world and the next.

I didn’t sit down. I didn’t move. I dropped the gun to the ground and fell to my knees, and I rolled over onto my chest, and I sobbed.


Three more letters came from Nora before the first snowfall. I didn’t read any of them, but I left them in the piano bench and didn’t rip them up.

It was too cold to sit outside now, without a jacket at least, and so I watched the kids through the window instead. I couldn’t eat beans anymore because the taste of them was starting to make my mouth ache, and I couldn’t use the water anymore because it stopped coming to our house. In the middle of the night I crept through the bushes to the neighbor’s hose to fill a bucket with water, and I lugged it back to Grandma’s house, which was starting to smell like pee. I bought apples from the market on weekends – all the bad ones that nobody wanted at the end of the fall. I thought about Nora a lot, and I imagined the fun she was having in the war, and I got jealous of James, and I felt myself start to cry, and I would stop thinking about Nora.

Nora joked that Grandma’s house was like a large prison cell. Grandma was the guard and we were the prisoners who couldn’t leave.

“Why would you want to leave?”

Grandma used to say it as if there was something wrong with us, taking offense at the notion that anyone would refuse her hospitality. I didn’t argue, because I had never known another home, but Nora would frequently step outside and walk around the neighborhood. Whenever she did this, Grandma would mutter to me for hours about how Nora was the devil, and how if I ever tried to do what Nora did she would beat me with the iron rod on top of the fireplace.

But now Grandma was gone and Nora was gone and there was no one keeping me from running away.

I had a vision, as I stared out the window one day, of my last snowfall. Instead of stars, the snow was shaped like angels, and it landed in front of me and formed a giant pair of wings on the veranda. I lay down in the wings and they began to lift me up into the sky, so high that I could see the whole town and touch the peaks of the mountains. But they didn’t stop there, and I flew up and up until I could see the entire world beneath me, and then so high that I could cover it with one finger, and then there was nothing at all and I was in heaven. The wings dropped me off in the dark and I crawled around, blind and dumb and on all fours. My legs were stubby, my hands were sharp, and a little piece of flesh was sticking out behind me. I tried to scream, but my voice came out in screeches, and I couldn’t move without bumping into something hard on all sides.

Then, there was a shuffle. Something scraped across the ground. And out of nowhere, I heard a song start to play.

Dm…dm dm…dm dm…dm dm…dm dm…dm dm…

It was slow and somber, and when I heard it, I knew where I was.
Grandma’s walls were never the most spacious.

I stopped screaming, and I felt the rhythm of her sorrow, and all of a sudden I understood why the rats would stop to listen to Nora’s music. It was the same longing that I had, that same mix of ecstasy and profound aloneness that made shooting children so funny. That same mandate to live that colored the empty barrel of an unloaded gun.

And once I realized that, everything turned the same shade of sadness.


On those golden afternoons when the snow melted and there was pink again, I sat on the veranda alone and let the wind touch my skeleton. I listened to the kids walking by and I imagined I was one of them, and I had somewhere to go. I thought about what I would say to Nora when she came back from the war. How was the war, maybe. Or how come you’re back. Or maybe something so that she wouldn’t talk about James.

I didn’t know if Nora was coming back, and if she did she would probably live with James and I wouldn’t see her anymore. Or maybe James would come and live in Grandma’s house. He would clean the house or burn it down and he would live in Nora’s room and soon enough he would make me leave because he didn’t want to share her with me.

I didn’t have much to eat anymore. Grandma’s money was running low so I started buying cheaper things like oats and cornmeal. I felt dizzy and some days I couldn’t make myself get up in the morning. Other days, I found myself staying up all night and sleeping when the sun came up. I felt more like a pet than a person.

The Spring evenings were better than the Autumn evenings because the breeze tickled and made you laugh even when there was nothing funny. I hadn’t laughed since Nora left, but I couldn’t help it when little tendrils of breath brushed past my chin and left kisses across my neck. The couch was getting really saggy now, and when I sat down in it I could feel my entire body sinking under my sack of skin and bones. The rifle lay across my lap, and I ran my hand across it, feeling the familiar oily cracks and crevices. I still hadn’t found the bullets, which was probably for the better because I would have shot myself. I imagined my body lying on the porch, and how Nora and James would find me and bring me to the woods and dump me in the clearing. I wondered if Nora would play her sad song for me when they got back.


On my half-birthday, I went into the backyard to find out if God was real. I walked out the front door, down the steps of the porch, and crossed behind the house to the patch of forest that Nora and I left Grandma in. The yard was overgrown and thorns pricked at my ankles as I waded into the brush that lined the edge of the thicket. The foreignness of organic matter made my skin itch.

I drifted in a daze until the air chilled. Finally, I came to the spot where I last saw Grandma three years ago. The light oozed off of the trees and dripped onto the yellowing grass, leaving it stained with sun. There were wet leaves of all colors scattered in piles across the dirt, and clumps of soil where the squirrels buried their acorns in the fall. And leaning against the trunk of an old Oak on the far side of the clearing was a browning bag of bones.

It looked like a potato sack that had been ripped open and dunked in tar. Some pieces of the body were missing, probably dragged off by animals or lost in the rain. Other pieces were cracked and broken and ground up, fading cleanly into the ground.

What was left of me took a seat next to what was left of my Grandma. I picked some dirt up from off the ground and sprinkled it on her body. I took some dirt from her body and sprinkled it on myself. I stared into the distance and stopped believing in God.


One afternoon that summer, I opened the door and found Nora sleeping on the couch on the veranda.

She had a pink mark over her eye, and she was wearing a thin shirt and shredded pants. Her hair fell in stitches across her face, and her nails were long and caked with dirt. She shivered lightly as she slept, her brows furrowed, her fingers knit tightly together. She was thinner, and her nose was redder, and her lips had lost their sucrosity. She curled up and made herself small and insignificant.

She was alone.

I went inside and grabbed my rifle.

When I came back to the porch, I looked at Nora and I realized that I no longer loved her. I couldn’t see this woman playing the piano or eating beans, writing letters or telling stories about her husband. I could only see her lie there, silently, as she wasted away.

I raised the gun to her face.


The rifle slipped out of my hand and crashed to the ground. Nora didn’t wake up. I sat down next to her, on the edge of the couch, and watched the children walking by. I didn’t shoot them anymore. Death is only funny until it’s sitting beside you, and we were all sitting beside each other on this particular golden afternoon.

I raised my eyes to the road and stared at the mountains.

Somewhere in the house, a rat perked its ears for the sound of a song.

My Name is Richard Peng

This is the story of who I am.

Once upon an adolescence, I partook in an esoteric, largely misunderstood, yet life-changing extracurricular known as high school speech and debate.

For anyone who doesn’t know or hasn’t heard of speech and debate, it’s an activity and a national organization grounded in the ambitious task of giving teenagers a platform to speak their mind, perform, and cultivate their public speaking abilities. The actual specifics differ from school to school, but in my high school we did almost everything the National Speech and Debate Association recognized as a competitive event. There are the interpretation events: Dramatic, Humorous, Duo, Oral, and Programmed Oral, which are about performing published works by other authors. There are the platform events: Original Oratory, Informative Speaking, and Extemporaneous Speaking, which focus on delivering student-written content on anything from racism to barbecue grills to the nuclear program in Iran. Then there are the debate events: Public Forum, Lincoln-Douglas, Policy, and Congressional Debate. I’m leaving out a few, but for the most part these were the complete package.

When I was in the eleventh grade, I had just begun to come into my own as an actor. My first musical, a middle-school production of Annie in which I played the (uncharacteristically short) Oliver Warbucks, was a huge hit amongst parents and peers, and the subsequent years followed my journey from mediocrity to slightly less embarrassing mediocrity. Naturally, on the dawn of my fourth year as an actor, I felt ready to use my newfound skills to deliver high-stakes, powerful performances in speech and debate. So, for the first time, I decided to pick a piece and compete an interpretation event.

I started with oral interpretation. Oral interpretation is a category in which a student chooses a work of prose and a work (or works) of poetry, usually thematically linked, and performs them while “reading” the pieces out of a six-inch black binder. In hindsight, absurd, but I would be lying if I denied still sometimes pretending to hold a tiny binder in my right hand as I have casual conversations. With hunger and gusto, I began browsing bookstores and websites for potential performance-worthy pieces.

The moment I started looking for pieces was also the moment I was confronted with a predicament I had essentially been repressing for the past fifteen years.


A friend of mine, an alumnus who had graduated two years before, reached out to me when he heard about my search and referred me to a short story he had read. It was published in a science-fiction literary magazine, and only recently became available online. I checked it out—it was called The Paper Menagerie, and it was written by author Ken Liu. Like me, Liu is an Asian-American, the difference being he was born in China and I was not. Similarly, the protagonist in his short story is an Asian-American in a more literal sense, born to a Chinese mother and an American father. At first, these concentric worlds represented, to me, just the necessity of performing something audiences could associate with my face. However, I later came to realize there was a chord it struck that was probably the driving force behind any success I achieved.

In the story, a young boy named Jack grows up in the suburbs of Connecticut with a Chinese face but an American identity. After suffering teasing and abuse from classmates for his love of his mother’s origami and paper animals, he begins to resent his “otherness”. He ignores his mother’s efforts to connect him with Chinese culture, decides to learn French, exclusively eat American, and stops talking to her altogether. Years later, after his mother dies of cancer, he finds a note written to him from her in Chinese. It tells him of the hardship she went through growing up in the years of China’s cultural revolution, her search for a home in America, finally finding purpose in her son, only to have everything she’s ever worked for tossed resentfully right back in her face. The story ends with Jack wallowing in guilt and resolving to belatedly reconnect with the part of him he had deliberately sabotaged.

Perfect, I thought. What an emotionally manipulative piece with a satisfying ending that teaches us all an important lesson. The irony went right over my head.

The first person I showed my newfound piece to was my mother, who by the end was struggling to hold back sobs. I had only seen my mom cry twice in my life – the first time was when I had inadvertently told a family friend that the present we got them for a Christmas party was actually a re-gift. This was the second. She told me the piece was really impactful, and told me I had done a great job, which I took to be a good sign. It was, for competition—I ended up winning my first tournament in prose reading. But what she probably didn’t tell me was how much of herself she had seen in the mother, and how much of me she had seen in Jack.

A month later, another alumnus reached out to me and offered me a program of poetry that would complement The Paper Menagerie. This set of five poems – Alex Dang’s “What Kind of Asian are You”, George Yamazawa (and collaborators)’s “Unforgettable”, Sam Lai’s “Chinatown”, Franny Choi’s “All Look Same”, and Troy Osaki’s “Legacy” – was specifically constructed around the idea of the Asian-American identity, how an Asian face is so much more than the collective stereotypes surrounding it. Again, a piece that resonated with me long before I understood its implications on myself.

I performed these two pieces to relative competitive success, but the moment that left the most profound impact on me was not actually in performance.

One Tuesday night practice, the task finally presented itself to give my poetry program a title that wraps up its message. There were a few cliché suspects tossed out, such as “What Kind of Asian Are You” (which I eventually settled on), “Asian-American” (far too vague), and “Asian in America” (upsettingly reminiscent of Fresh Off the Boat). Then, someone came up with a title I had never considered, a concept that they had seen used before in another poetry piece regarding racial identity.

My Name is Richard Peng.

Nothing could have summed it up better. With a first name like Richard, the epitome of white America, and a last name like Peng, which screamed otherness, I was by definition the chimera that these poets were struggling to contain in one body. I didn’t choose that title, because it felt derivative considering the inspiration came from another speech piece, but I never let the idea depart from my memory.


Like Jack, and like many Asian-American and minority children, I was bullied at a young age because of my race. It didn’t strike me as bullying at the time– I wasn’t punched or kicked, I didn’t go home with bruises on my face every day. I was ashamed to even call it bullying until I had the chance to reflect on the emotional toll it eventually took on me. Mostly, I was called names, intentionally provoked, usually on the bus when there was no adult supervision but often right under the noses of teachers too. One instance I’ll always remember is when a girl began calling me worthless at lunch one day, citing my face and my Asianness as the culprit. I told her I would throw an animal cracker at her if she didn’t stop, and she immediately jumped out of her seat, reporting me to the teacher for making such an audacious threat. I ended up getting a serious warning from the teacher that day, permanently reminding me to stand down.

An essential part of a Chinese upbringing is having respect. This stems partly from the ideology of figures such as Confucius, who remind us to respect our family, our peers, and our elders above all. However, in the midst of all these teachings, perhaps the most important respect is glossed over, which is respect for yourself. Self-respect isn’t an issue for many American families– there is an implied entitlement in the American dream, and children are raised to recognize their own value. This is purely from a cultural standpoint, of course; the game changes when you factor in family dynamics and wealth. But for me, this cultural disparity made all the difference in the world. Instead of defending myself when I was put down, I shrunk into myself and quietly took the abuse. Over time, it began to color how I saw people like me.

I was playing a game freshman year of high school with a few friends of mine, where you go around a circle and ask each other questions. Unsurprisingly, someone eventually asked, “Who do you want to date?” Everyone began chattering. “Well, I think Emily–”, “I know who Johnny would want to–”, “I’ve always wanted to ask Amelia–”, etc. The first thought that came to my mind? “Nobody Asian”. I said it out loud, and the room went quiet. There was a discomfort settling in the space as it dawned on me that I had said something so fundamentally more messed-up than anything anyone else could have conjured. Finally, a good friend of mine broke the tension by giving me a quizzical look and simply saying, “Richard, what?”.


“Richard, what?” is the same reaction I got when I performed my poetry for the first time to my coach. “Is that really how you feel?” Almost instinctively, I recoiled with, “No! No, I’m not angry. It’s just a piece.”

I wasn’t angry; that part was true. I was and continue to be immensely thankful for every opportunity that came my way because of the privileges I enjoy as an American citizen. My life would be very, very different had I grown up in China with the rest of my extended family. But I did resent the lack of flexibility the world I lived in created for someone like me. I didn’t want to just be known as “that kid who’s good at math”, or “that Asian kid”, and have people refer to me as “ching chong” instead of my name. I didn’t want Jackie Chan to be the only role model I was allowed to have, or to play exclusively in the school orchestra. In fact, every move I made could be seen as deliberately thwarting the stereotypes associated with my Asianness. I preferred to excel in English as opposed to math and science. I played drums in the school band. I took up choir and theater and hung out almost exclusively with white kids. I was so insecure and set in my mental hierarchy that I even sometimes looked down on my own sisters, who appeared so much more comfortable living the lives our parents intended for us.

I had come to associate my Chinese-ness with hate, ugliness, and a condemnation to failure. Exactly the way Jack did in The Paper Menagerie. I even believed for the longest time that I would never find someone who loves me because this simple feature would stand in the way. I still have trouble shaking the thought now.

Something changed, however, when I got to college.


I will never forget a presentation on diversity my freshman orientation at Princeton University. Our speaker, a prominent and incredibly inspiring African-American man whose name I cannot remember, to my own detriment, played a game where students stood if they identified with certain labels he projected on a screen. This was not the first time I had done this activity, so I knew what to expect. Man, woman, heterosexual, homosexual, African-American, Latino, Asian, international, liberal, conservative, rich, poor, and so on. I watched as group after group of students literally stood up unabashedly for who they were. I stood too, but tentatively. Then, a category I hadn’t expected was called– stand up if you are in an interracial relationship. Instinctively, I got to my feet. I was in a long-distance relationship with a girl from high school, and she was not Asian. That was all there was to it for me. But as I looked around at the fifty-or-so standing kids out of a class of thirteen-hundred, something amazing happened. There was a huge, spontaneous round of applause. Students cheered for what this signified, the ability not just to look past race and cross unprecedented borders, but also to fully accept and love each other for our differences. They loved that I was loved, that my face and skin color did not stand in the way of the fundamental recognition of my humanity. I was stunned.

I was also fortunate to encounter and befriend an arsenal of people who saw value in my heritage. Friends who dedicated themselves to learning mandarin, who were endlessly fascinated by Chinese culture, politics and literature, and who envied me for the resources I possessed as a member of both the American and the Chinese community. Crazy as it sounds, I was beginning to get out-Chinese’d by people who didn’t even start learning the language until that year! These same friends also insisted on the acquisition of whole plethora of languages, and recognized the value of cultural proficiency and fluency. I became pretty indignant, probably for the wrong reasons, but ultimately began to hone my mandarin skills again.

Having spent a lifetime apologizing for my race, it felt startling heretical to suddenly be proud of it. In an act of reconciliation, I began reaching out to my parents in an attempt to understand their upbringing. I also began taking action to create spaces within the communities I had joined, like theater, that focused on tolerating and welcoming different identities instead of institutionally homogenizing all of its members. I began seeing myself as a liaison between two worlds instead of being forced to choose one at the cost of the other. It was, and still is, a huge breath of fresh air.


That leads us to now.

I wish I could end this essay with a satisfying conclusion that ties everything up with a neat little ribbon and proves I’ve grown, but I can’t. I’m barely out of my teens, and the scars of my youth are still ever-present in the way I carry myself and regard Asianness. But what I can say is the world is changing, and so is the way that I think about who I am: a shining example of the power of both nature and nurture. I am my parents’ son, and I can never forget the ancestors that bestowed my family name upon me. But I am also who I make myself to be, which is embodied by the name I call myself. This is true of everyone, regardless of race. It may have only been a recent epiphany, but I am immensely grateful that, unlike Jack, I did not wait until it was too late to come to terms with my identity.

My name is Richard Peng.

What’s yours?