Half Chinese Wonder Woman
In 1982 I was a 4-year-old obsessed with the Lynda Carter version of Wonder Woman. I would twirl in circles to transform into her likeness, deflect bullets off my superhero wrists and lasso deviants for truth and justice. To honor my desire to replicate Wonder Woman’s essence, my babysitter lovingly fashioned me aluminum foil wristbands and crown. I ran around the backyard proudly decked in my costume. One afternoon, as I was slaying bad guys, a neighbor hidden from her darkened second story window yelled out in a mocking voice, “Little girl, why are you running around in your underwear?” Indeed, I was wearing a tank and panties made to look like Wonder Woman’s uniform. But, as an imaginative little girl, I truly thought I was the strong, beautiful heroine.
Fortunately, the feelings of embarrassment and shame were fleeting. I still had a few more years of getting to imagine and play uninhibited.
I attended a private, wealthy high school in Microsoft Land and then a small liberal arts college in rural Pennsylvania. Both were predominantly White settings. I was told by my Caucasian mother that my Half-Chinese olive skin and almond-shaped-eyes would be distinguishing in the midst of my blonde-haired, blue-eyed friends. I held out hope that it would afford me the story I longed for, one where I was pursued and chosen by the All-American boys. Alas, this was not my experience. Instead, I often found myself in the role as sidekick, best friend to the leading lady, or confidante to the boy who made me swoon (but who always chose the blonde). I lived with the haunting questions: “What is wrong with me? Why am I not wanted?” And over decades, these questions turned into beliefs and lies: “You are not lovely. You will always be on the outside, alone.” At the time, I didn’t connect my insecurity or heartache to my racial profile.
After a lifetime of questioning my face, my body, and my desirability, I was just beginning to believe something new and exhilarating about myself. This new reality was hard won.
Fast forward to a night in my early 30’s. My friends were egging me on as we walked down the Seattle street in a huddled mass. They shared a rallying spirit that would rival football players before the big game. “I definitely think you need to go for him,” one suggested, referring to a man we had interacted with over dinner. I agreed that he was attractive and funny, and I began to feel giddy at the prospect of meeting him later that evening, as he had suggested he would meet up with us at a bar. Yet, it was more than this romantic intrigue that had me buzzing and excited like an adolescent girl. After a lifetime of questioning my face, my body, and my desirability, I was just beginning to believe something new and exhilarating about myself. This new reality was hard won. I had invested years into therapy, conversations, and study. Ultimately, I had been invited by other people of color to consider how my being a minority had contributed to my experience. All had culminated in a confidence that an attractive and funny man would take notice of me. So, I freely joined the Friday night pep rally. I even dared to think and agree that this man would follow the script my friends were writing on our behalf.
Scene: Boy meets girl. He is enthralled with me. We flirt and share witty banter. By the end of the night we exchange phone numbers, expressing mutual interest of one another.
Scene gone awry: Guy pulls my friend aside and speaks to her privately, quietly before he leaves the bar to go home. Friend leans over to me and says, “I don’t know how to say this, but he just asked for her phone number.” Friend points to one in our party, another blonde friend. I muster up the closest thing to a nonchalant, breezy demeanor and respond, “It’s fine. So he’s into blondes.” Friend attempts to console because she knows that the thoughts in my mind are not breezy but instead the makings of a Category 5 hurricane. Friend attempts to offer comedic moment to calm the raging storm and says, “Or he’s not into Mexicans.”
The only way I know to be cleansed from it is to talk, to tell my story, to be validated by those who can name the subtleties and micro-aggressions and help me understand that I’m not crazy or dramatic.
My worst nightmare quickly began to unfold. She called me a Mexican to soften the blow. It was a word I gave her. She had spent months overhearing my Guatemalan friend and me name each other this. It was a “joke” that was created after we had recognized our shared experience of White strangers approaching us and asking, “What are you?” I have been mistaken for Filipino, Puerto Rican, African American, and Mexican. So had he. On a deeper level, my Guatemalan friend and I shared more heart breaking stories of how we experienced covert ostracism and the sense of “otherness.” Calling each other Mexican united us, provided levity, and at times served as a balm. Tonight, it was none of these three.
On this night, up until the minute that my friend alerted me to the news of my misfortune, none of my high school or college memories, none of my previous 3 decades of beliefs had clouded my mind. I had forgotten that I was the woman of color surrounded by her White friends. I thought, before the bar, that I was the strong, beautiful heroine. I left the bar the deflated sidekick.
I have not felt hated for my race. Unlike Blacks, I do not have to live with a constant fear that my physical body is in danger. However, the message that I am not what is preferred has left a putrid residue. The only way I know to be cleansed from it is to talk, to tell my story, to be validated by those who can name the subtleties and micro-aggressions and help me understand that I’m not crazy or dramatic. I will fight for the Half-Chinese Wonder Woman.