ON BEING | Growing Up Mixed in the 626

In Arcadia, California, weekends are the province of Asian-American overachievers. I know this because I was one of them. Sort of.

One Saturday afternoon in seventh grade, a bunch of us gathered at a classmate’s house to work on our project for the Odyssey of the Mind competition. All of us were Chinese. People chatted casually about homework sets in their advanced math classes or complained about having to go to Chinese school instead of watching Saturday-morning cartoons. I liked being in on these teenage grievances even though they weren’t my own.

On that particular Saturday, a joke was made in Mandarin. But I didn’t speak the language and the joke was lost on me. In the wake of my classmates’ raucous laughter I felt acutely aware of my difference.

Something welled up inside my throat. All of a sudden I felt a burning urgency to stake a claim, to assert that I was one of them, that I too belonged in this group. “Hey guys, I’m Chinese too,” I ventured. A classmate who carpooled with my family was quick to counter, “Katie, that doesn’t count.”