Find x. "Suggested" word limit: 500.
The envelope, with a custom-made stamp and bold printed words, was light. Filled with naive enthusiasm, I ripped it open without hesitation. As I started reading, my smile fell and sluggish despondency settled in. My first rejection letter. The envelope was light, too light; I should have known.
I was eight years old, and the letter was from Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Tree House series. Rather, it was from her publisher, cordially informing me that Mrs. Osborne is too busy to reply to all her fan mail, and sends her best wishes.
When I was penning that letter, I simply wanted to express my endless love for her books. My parents, however, wanted me to also describe how I had moved from China only ten months prior and that her books played a major role in how quickly I was learning English. They said my unique experiences would increase chances of a correspondence, but I sent a typical, unremarkable letter, because through writing, I could pretend to be the quintessential American child, finally free of my furtive embarrassment over my family's immigrant status. This shame was palpably familiar, and manifested itself most clearly in my sweaty back and downcast eyes during every roll call when American tongues tripped inflexibly over my name, Xiaoyu.
x has never been far from me, sitting pretty at the front of my name, but it still took almost ten years for me to truly find. The dichotomy between my family's culture and the Western culture I tried so hard to fit into denies me a firm foothold in either world. I've grown up defined by uncertainty about how I could reconcile my parents' expectations with my "morally-corrupt American-ness" of being bisexual and opinionated (and wanting a dog). I didn't know if the differences between my family and myself were cultural or generational, while an expanding language gap further diminished my ability to express this confusion to my parents.
This muddle of expectations and values made it clear I could not possibly satisfy every component of my life pulling me in all directions. I can't live according to specific, pre-defined structures of any group to which I belong, but according to how I contribute to them. I will not keep quiet about my activism to pacify my parents, but that means I will speak clearly and unequivocally for the good of Asian-Americans and immigrants. I won't suppress my distinctive experiences, because consistently winning class spelling bees thanks to Magic Tree House is a fact to be celebrated. I will live on my own terms, starting with my name. I can honor my heritage in ways other than making people struggle to say my Chinese name, and I use an American name not out of desperation to conform, but as a choice. No longer am I self-conscious during roll call, when every new teacher stops short with brow furrowed, when Xiaoyu is admirably attempted but mangled anyway, and when I raise my hand and firmly claim my space in the world, in command of my names, my viewpoint, my existence. I know myself, I stand amidst identities at a point that is uniquely my own, and I have found my x.