One day when I was 10 years old, I was riding my bike after school around my neighborhood in Southern California when a boy I had never seen before came up to me and kept repeating the words, “Ni hao. Ni hao.” He followed me around as a I pedaled through the streets, and each time he said “Ni hao” I grew more and more embarrassed.
“Ni hao” means hello in Chinese, but I am not from China. Neither are my parents or my grandparents. But my exact heritage didn’t matter to this boy, who chased me around the predominantly white neighborhood I call home. My embarrassment eventually turned into anger, so I pedaled as fast as I could until I ended up back in my driveway and crying in my mom’s arms.
Seven years later I’d like to say that my experiences have shifted, that growing up alongside aware and educated peers lessened my exposure to both inherent and blatant examples of racism, but that’s not exactly the case. Being a 17-year-old first-generation Korean-American in a predominantly white, upper-middle class Christian high school has its benefits, which is why I’m there in the first place. But more often than not I feel isolated, alone, and hurt by offensive comments and racial slurs.