Psychodrama

Dear Asian Youth,

Before…

As the subway trains rushed by, I wrapped my fingers around my backpack’s straps. My nails dug into their black, rough fabric as the memory flashed through my vision, as if I were in a cinema. Although it had just been a few hours ago, it felt as if it had been an eternity ago.

Holding on to the railing, I buried my nose into my thick, navy-colored jacket. The howling wind blew my hair, and it caressed my face with forced affection. I shivered, and after rubbing my frozen ears, I zipped my backpack open. After rummaging through my textbooks in what seemed like an eternity, I pulled out a sheet of paper. On it was marked a single letter in red:

A.

Below the letter, the teacher had scribbled down a note. Apparently, she had been in a hurry, because the words were barely legible:

Congrats, Eunji! You have gotten the best grade out of the whole class.

Grinning, I inhaled a lungful of spiky air. As I spun to put the sheet of paper back into her backpack, someone tapped my shoulder. At first, the thickness of my jacket prevented me from noticing, but around the fifth tap, I looked above my shoulder, meeting someone’s gaze. It was David, a classmate of mine.

“Wow, what a surprise!” David cackled, crossing his arms. “You got the best grade.”

“What about it?” I shoved the test into my bag, and flung it onto my shoulders. “My grade is none of your business.”

“I mean, of course it is. You’re my rival. And since you’re my rival, of course I’ll want to beat you on a test.” David pushed my head to a wall behind me. “What’s your secret?”

“I just work hard.” I started walking towards the stairs, but the sound of my footfalls halted when David said, “It’s just because you’re Asian.”

I closed my eyes, trying to swat the words away from my head. “I don’t care.” This wasn’t the first time I’d heard that phrase. Why get distracted by it now?

“You Asians are such nerds,” David continued, chuckling. “Have you ever wondered why you have no friends? Why you’re bullied? Because you’re that stereotypical Asian. You’re privileged. You don’t need to work hard to be smart, so of course, people will hate you.”

As his voice reached my ears, I bit my lip, gulping down a sob. “Shut up.”

I sniffed, shoving the memory away. I didn’t want those comments to distract me from things that mattered. My correspondent train stopped in front of me, and screeches filled the air. The door slid open, and as I stepped inside the subway train, a tingle emerged, creeping up my spine.

“Strange,” I muttered. When I took a seat next to a woman carrying a blue, leather purse, the tingle spread throughout my body in a second. I grumped, shoving my hands into the pockets of my jeans. And when the tingle reached my forehead, everything around me burst into light.

Blinded by the sudden brightness, I shut my eyes and wrinkled my nose.

In the murkiness, wisps of mist supported me from the slicing cold. Wind blew at my skirt, whistling a frightful, spine-chilling tune. What small things can do… a soft whisper tickled my ear. What did all of this mean? Was this a dream? The cloudy ringlets of mist fixed themselves around me, and pulled me from the dark, oblivious world.

As my eyelids snapped open, I gasped. I had definitely not expected to find myself in an enchanted marketplace.

The place was everything but normal. I looked down, and found myself standing on a purple cloud. I gazed at the place in front of me.

The purple clouds were everywhere. Beneath people. On top of people. Beneath the stands. To my right. Turquoise sparkles floated about, making me sneeze as I caught one of them with my nose.

Stands were spread throughout the immense space, and people were shouting what someone would normally hear in a market. Things like “exclusive discount!” or “get your delicious mangos for just one thing about yourself!”

One thing about myself?

I approached the nearest stand, which stood with authority, its ceiling hovering over me. I gulped.

“What is this place?” I asked, flailing my arms. “I’m supposed to be sitting on a subway train! Not this, uh, whatever this place is supposed to be.”

The man in charge of the stand coughed, rolling his eyes. His gray beard swished with his head’s every movement. He leaned against a pole next to him, and said, “Welcome to the Psychodrama Marketplace. It’s simple, you sell something of yourself and in exchange, you receive whatever you want. A vegetable. A toy. Y’know, that stuff.”

I shook my head and pinched my left arm to make sure this wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t. “How do I leave this place? I should get going.” I shifted uncomfortably, rubbing my hands. “Please?”

“You can only leave if you do what you came here for.” The man yawned. “So, what do you wanna sell?”

Wrinkles filled my forehead. I closed my eyes. “Oh my gosh, I don’t even know what’s happening.”

“Sell something about yourself.”

“I don’t know what to sell!”

“Nothing to sell? Well, you’ll never leave. And by the way, if there’s a drastic change you face after selling the product, nobody will notice. They’ll remember your past self as your present-self.”

“Ugh, alright! I’ll sell my smartness.”

The words I spit in desperation took me by surprise. My eyes widened, and my lips quivered with fear.

“No! Nevermind, I’ll take that back.” I forced out a nervous grin.

But, what if selling her smartness would actually not be a bad thing? What if, if she wasn’t that stereotypical Asian, as David had called her, I’d be more loved? More, accepted?

I sighed. It was true. Maybe, if I changed, things would be different. I’d have a ton of friends. Maybe I’d even be the popular girl in school.

What if…?

“I’ll sell my smartness in exchange for a cool personality. A personality my classmates will love.”

“Alright. Your product’s letter is I. If you ever wanna return again, say psychodrama while entering a subway train.”

***

Now…

I am now addicted.

I’m addicted to all of this. I’m addicted to being a seller in the Psychodrama Marketplace. I am addicted to becoming a fake person.

I’m addicted to selling myself. I’m addicted to not being me.

The worst thing of all others is, I don’t even know if I regret it.

These are the letters of the products I have sold:

I: My smartness in exchange for a lovable personality.

D: The Korean food I bring to school in exchange for American food my classmates won’t make fun of.

E: Speaking in Korean with my family in front of my friends in exchange for making my parents speak fluent English.

N:My monolids in exchange for pretty and large western eyes.

T: My black eyes in exchange for blue eyes.

I: My brown hair in exchange for blonde hair.

T #2: My Korean name in exchange for a Western name.

Sometimes, I don’t feel like myself. Sometimes, I wish that whenever I stared at the mirror, Eunji looked back at me. Not Elena, my Western self. I wish my original eyes caught my gaze, not my brand new, fake, blue ones.

But in this form, I am accepted. I receive a warm embrace from everyone, and I am treated like a fellow human. Like a fellow American. Not like someone from the other side of the world. Not like garbage. I gained a ton of friends because of my new personality. I am considered cool for getting bad grades and not caring at all. I am not made fun of because of how my language sounds, or because of my eyes.

I am loved in this form.

At the end of the day, it is all worth it.

I step into my classroom and am greeted by some of my friends. Curling my blonde hair with my finger, I wave back with a wink. The old me might have cringed at this, but the new me knows this is the only way to catch the attention of others.

My chair screeches as I drag it across the floor. I take a seat, leaning against it, and lay my feet on my desk, crossing my arms. I still feel uncomfortable whenever doing this, but again, it looks cool to the others. “Good morning, Miss Martin.”

“Sir properly, Elena,” Miss Martin scowls, rolling her eyes. “You truly deserve only half of your current grade. I don’t know how you pass. Your conduct is terrible.”

My cheeks turn red, and my eyes go wide. Had I really changed that much?

David cackles from the back of the classroom. “Of course she does!” he yells. “You know why she deserves half of her current grade? Because she comes from half a country!”

Confusion washes over me, and then embarrassment, and then horror.

Half a country. Sometimes, I forget how Korea is divided in two. And I had never been so embarrassed of it until now.

A wave of giggles hit me like a bullet. Memories of my past traumatic experiences poke my brain. The time I had been denied access to a soccer game because ‘Asians are bad at sports.’ The time a few teenagers had thrown stones at my parents, screaming racial slurs.

When would all of this stop?

I clench my fingers, turning my hands into fists. And then, I make the biggest decision of my life.

I am standing in front of the old man again, shivering in front of the stand.

The old man taps his fingers on the stand’s surface, mumbling words of annoyance. “What are you scared of now?”

“I’m scared of everything,” I answer. This time, I let the tears escape their cages. I let them stream across my cheeks, leaving a trail of dryness. I let all the pain out.“This is the last product I’ll sell, just so you know.”

He stares at my damp cheeks and then looks away. “Good. Now, hurry up.”

I sniff, and spit out the words I dread the most. I’m not even sure if I am supposed to do this. But I know it is necessary. “I wanna sell my nationality. I wanna be fully American. I don’t wanna be Korean anymore. I want all of this to stop.”

“Alright. Your product’s assigned letter is Y.”

I smile. Now, all these traumatic memories would stop bothering me. I’d live without being stared at. I’d stop hearing racial slurs, being called Chinese and told my lunchbox had a rotten smell.

It’d all stop. Everything.

It is then that the puzzle’s pieces started fitting together.

I: My smartness in exchange for a lovable personality.

D: The Korean food I bring to school in exchange for American food my classmates won’t make fun of.

E: Speaking in Korean with my family in front of my friends in exchange for making my parents speak fluent English.

N:My monolids in exchange for pretty and large western eyes.

T: My black eyes in exchange for blue eyes.

I: My dull brown hair in exchange for cool blonde hair.

T #2: My Korean name in exchange for a Western name.

Y: My Korean nationality in exchange for being American.

I. D.E. N. T. I. T. Y.

Without even being aware of it, I had sold my identity to be accepted.

No. Not to be accepted. Just to feel accepted.

Trying to become someone I was not.

After all, if I had been accepted only after having changed, was that even real acceptance?

– Sowon


Although huge events like hate crimes and mass shootings are widely talked about, microagressions are often swept under the rug. Racial slurs like “ching chong” or “banana” may seem jokes for others, but for the victim, they have a lasting impact, and could even end up taking away their identity. Through my short story, I wanted to explain how big of an impact these microaggressions can be, in a simple and understandable way.


Biography:

Sowon Kim is a 14-year-old Korean aspiring author and translator who lives in Lima, Peru. Apart from writing, Sowon enjoys swimming, reading, surfing and learning foreign languages. She is currently working on her debut novel, which is set to be released in the next few years. Sowon hopes to inspire people who suffer from racism and discrimination through her stories, as well as raise awareness about the diverse social issues happening around the world. You can follow her on Instagram (@esperanzakim__).

Cover Photo Source: Mustang Monthly