puzzle pieces.

by Alison Chua

As a child, I spent nearly every summer in Singapore, laying on the cool tiles of my

grandparents’ HDB flat, surrounded by hot, humid air and the heavy smell of my grandmother’s cooking sizzling and spicing up the warm air. I grew up in America and traveled back to my dad’s home country every summer to visit my grandparents and extended family.

Every country has their own culture, and Singapore was no exception. Singaporeans

speak Singlish– Singaporean English– and all the students are familiar with their mother tongue and they all knew bits of other languages like Teochew, Malay, and Hokkien. But I didn’t. Even the way I dressed made me stand out. I didn’t wear the typical school uniform, but rather embraced an “American style.” Painted nails made me look different, since local students were not permitted to do so. My aunts called me a foreigner because my accent was different, and I didn’t know the bus routes. Despite my grandmother’s pride of my studies in America, all I wanted was to fit in. But trying to fit in was like trying to solve a puzzle with the wrong pieces in hand. I wanted a Singlish accent, and to understand Teochew, my dad’s native tongue.

In 4 th grade, someone came up to me and pulled back his eyes in an insulting manner, and

said “Look, I’m Chinese!” Back then, I didn’t know that it was racism and I had even become

friends with him later on in middle school. In retrospect, I realized that I hadn’t been taught

much about racism and it was normalized through dog-eating and Ching-Chong jokes. The high school I attend now is pretty diverse, but racism against Asians is still normalized and there will always be racism no matter where you go. The arrival of COVID-19 exponentially increased the xenophobia and racism against Asians and I had seen it with my own eyes. In the beginning, I had been afraid to wear a mask to the grocery store because society taught us that wearing a mask meant you had COVID and I didn’t want to become a target. Even sitting at the lunch table with my friends, they made jokes directed at me about COVID, saying I had the “coronavirus bug” and that my food had coronavirus in it. Even though I hadn’t been to China, or even left the country in almost a year, the COVID jokes were always aimed at me. I even had a classmate tell me that COVID hadn’t increased racism against Asians, even though I had seen proof of it in black eyes and bloody noses in the news.

Throughout my years in school, I had always been surrounded by Asians, but I always

found that I wanted to fit in better with the white, popular kids. Society had drilled the idea into

everyone’s head that being white was considered “normal” and being Asian meant you were

“exotic.” That was when I realized that I didn’t fit in, despite being born and raised in America.

I found myself wondering where I truly belonged and where I would really be able to

belong fully, without racist jokes directed at me or the feeling of being a foreigner. Growing up, I just wanted to find somewhere where I would finally feel at home, but as I got older, I realized

that I don’t belong in just one specific country. I belong in both Singapore and America, because they are all my home. My home is where my heart is, and my heart is where my family is. I am who I am because of my heritage and I should always be proud of that, no matter where I go. From the start, I thought I had the wrong puzzle pieces, when all along, they were the right ones. I just needed to figure out how to piece them together.


about the author:

Alison Chua

Alison Chua is a Singaporean American living in Washington State. She is the state representative of Washington State and is passionate about helping younger minority kids find their identity. She writes a story about her hardships and joys of being of Asian background in the United States. Although she struggled finding her true identity, she realized how proud she was of her heritage, no matter where she lives.