The Colour Yellow
Raised through binary systems
I am a product of westernized thought.
Colour-coated labels, black and white
organized into aisles from left to right,
I buy them in packs at staples
as the colour yellow sits on the shelf
I was born in between white and yellow
with the contrast of privilege and oppression
initialled on my birth certificate.
Chinese mother, White father,
I have been told oil and water don’t mix,
but my birth was ambivalent to these polarities.
I grew up with Po Po and Gong Gong,
who my cousins called MaMa and Yeh Yeh;
grandma and grandpa werenever our language of family.
White rice with soy saucefor lunch,
soups and stews fromfrozen chicken bones-
frugality is its base:
“Popo grew up on a farm you know,
she never got to go to school, waste nothing”
I sigh in embarrassment as she pockets unused wooden chopsticks from western restaurants,
she says they’ll help her plants stay upright as they grow.
While they grew, so did I
with black hair,
and almond eyes too wide to be called quintessential,
but slanted enough to becalled a chink
chink, chink, chink
is the background noise in my school hallway
is the background noise of plates and teacups at dim sum
is the tagline I had forced myself to laugh to
is the word my mother winced to
is the racism I internalized.
In Saussurean structuralist theory,
the binary opposition is the means by which units of language have value or meaning
I never learnt how to speak Cantonese.
Typically, one of the two opposites assumes a role of dominance over the other
I learnt to be ashamed of it instead.
When kids realized my last name wasn’t Lee or Chang
That I said hi, and not ni hao,
my Chinese was only an undertone in my skin,
envious of blonde hair and blue eyes,
and when I asked my mother if I could dye my hair she told me I’d be too white.
Not white enough.
I grew up in a binary
Believing I was living the inferior half;
But do you eat your pets?
But are you only half smart?
But are you only half a bad driver?
But what are you?
But where are you actually from?
But did your dad have yellow fever?
(As if my mother was a china doll he picked out at a store)
I could never just be:
Typically one of the two opposites assumes a role of dominance over the other
Typically a role of dominance over the other
Typically, dominance, White dominance,
bleached my self conscious
until I finally felt my yellow stain had come out.
So with Eve, I danced with the devil,
and slept with gwailou
Who told me my eyes were big for an Asian girl;
Who told me I’d look sexy in a cheongsam;
Who told me I wasn’t even Asian at all.
And when Eve recited
‘take them as compliments’
I realized that Eden isn’t as colourful as it’s pictured in the books.
The inside of the apple is painted white,
while my body unfolds like a red envelope.
So I dug out that serpent seed, the internalized myth of ‘not good enough’
and bloomed with Po Po’s orchids, whose name I share,
福兰撒. I am not ashamed.
In Saussurean structuralist theory, binary relation is not contradictory
-I have never been one
nor have I ever been ‘other’-
It is structural and complementary.
So now, when you ask me what my favourite colour is,
I will tell you with pride, that I have always loved
the colour Yellow.