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National Teen Storyteller Contest

Falling into the Culture of In-Between

Photo of Serena Young<br>11th Grade | Orlando, FL

Serena Young
11th Grade | Orlando, FL


The first place winner of our Summer 2022 National Teen Storyteller Contest, presented with the student-led and founded Decameron Project! We invited young writers to share a story responding to the theme of Community Solidarity.

This contest is part of our 2022 NEA Big Read initiative, made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, in celebration of Toni Morrison's landmark novel, Beloved.

Being Asian never really bothered me, until the 2nd grade.

From the crayon box, sharp and unused, I picked out a peach color. But you aren’t white. I turned to look at my friend. This isn’t white, I told her. Yeah, but everyone knows it’s the color for white people. I looked at my skin, then compared it to hers, then to the crayons in the box. That left only one color that slightly resembled mine. Coming into school the next morning, my self-portrait was the only one a severe yellow among a sea of soft peaches.

Where is my community?

What if it’s ripped across the world? I’m Peter Pan and my shadow hasn’t returned, lost within summers three years ago. The tall apartments with brightly colored granny’s underwear, each masquerading as a drying family banner. The warm doughy smell of steaming buns, condensation lining the bamboo and the tip of my nose from leaning too close. The light whir of the fan, blowing the perfumed smell of sweet fish and creamy fruit salad and savory pork into every corner of the flat. My shadow is still there, in-between the creaking floorboards in front of the bathroom, under the fridge with the red bean popsicle stick, behind the portrait of our family of nine in the center of the living room. It’s a part of me left behind, an invisible line personified when half of us live in America.

America: a country where my parents built a new home. Surviving with less than a hundred dollars in their pocket, built a company and a legacy, adopted an English name and lost the accent. When people ask my mom where she’s from, I see confusion in their eyes. She is not Chinese enough. How could I ever be?

Where is my community?

Is it in the country I live in? Among the blinking neon signs, the names of restaurants for Golden this or Lotus that. The Asian dramas with doll-like girls and perfect pale skin, their quiet and innocent appeal with wrists so delicate and thighs so skinny. Is it being associated with loud tourists, the guide waving a flag when he should be waving ‘fresh off the boat’ instead. The grocery stores so few and far spaced I have to drive an hour to eat my favorite fruit, a lychee, the dark maroon peel contrasting the silken pulp inside. Is it in a country where businesses are cleared out, the elderly assaulted, being blamed for a virus from a country I wasn’t even born in?

In China, walking down the street, an elderly lady came up to me and asked why I was so dark. I’m from America, I replied. Her face lit up with understanding, patted my hand, and went on her way. All I needed was the name of a country to define me, yet that is the only thing it cannot do.