The Other

The Other

personal narrative by Kimaya Lecamwasam

I am the color of worn cardboard. Of a cork board. Of the cover of my Bob Dylan Singles Sleeves songbook. It has dogged me my entire life. They have called me “the Other,” even though I was born in America. Even though I laugh, cry, scream, dream in English and only English. Even though I have been pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America for my entire life.

They have told me to go back to where I come from. Where? I come from a one-room apartment in Boston, Massachusetts; from a little yellow house where I believed fairies hid within the skirts of rose petals; from a green house on a hill overlooking evergreen forests and a bright blue sky; from a neighborhood in Scottsdale, Arizona, where brown and black and white were just colors and neighbors were neighbors were neighbors. But they do not care about that, do they? I am different. I am “Other.” Do I belong?

I was four when I was told that I was too dark to be a princess. At recess on a cool spring day in Massachusetts, all of the little girls were holding court in a pile of damp wood chips. They sat as daintily as they possibly could with thin strips of wood poking and pricking their legs and a deep dampness seeping through their pink skirts. They were blonde. And pale. I remember that much clearly. I sat awkwardly at the edge of the circle, trying to blend in; I desperately wanted to blend in. And I wanted to be Belle. Belle was my favorite princess; she read and she dreamed and her library was fantastic. I liked to imagine that her shelves were full of row upon row of Magic Tree House books and picture books and adventure stories like the ones my parents would read to me before bed. The Woodchip Court told me that I could not be Belle because Belle did not look like me–she was the color of snow and I was the color of dirt. They grudgingly offered me the role of Jasmine in their magical kingdom of stereotypes and I grudgingly accepted because I wanted friends. I hated Jasmine; I was afraid of tigers and stomach-revealing tops and genies.

When I was six, my grandmother held her frail arm up against mine and scolded me for how dark my skin had become. I had spent my summer with my nose practically squashed into the rough pavement, observing fat and fuzzy caterpillars as they lazily wriggled around in the warm sun that filtered down on Middle-Of-Nowhere, Massachusetts. Kickball and bike races and adventuring were summer traditions. Dense woods surrounded my neighborhood, and everyone would spend hours wading in streams, searching for arrowheads and pretending to be pilgrims. But sweet summer days came at a cost. I was even darker now, the color of tree bark, molasses, mud. Fair was beautiful. My grandmother was fair. She proudly told me that she was as pale as the day she was born, that she never left the house without an umbrella, that the sun’s evil rays never had the chance to make her look different, make her look like me. For my birthday in the fall, she gave me a tube of sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat.

I was ten when I was told that I could not be anything other than a servant girl. I had dreamt of going to Broadway, of being a star, of my name in lights. I went to music classes, tried to act, sought advice from every possible avenue. The words of Dorothy Loudon were the gospel. My music teacher was an active member of the Arizona musical theater scene and I hero-worshiped her. She was blond and pale and perfect, just like how I wanted to be. We talked about my chances on Broadway. She sat me down and smiled at me and told me that my best hope of a role would be a servant girl in The King and I because of my color. And casting directors just do not hire people who don’t look right, sweetie…

At sixteen, I saw the cycle begin again. My five-year-old cousin fell madly in love with Frozen and had an Elsa-themed birthday party, Halloween costume, holiday party. She is just as brown as I am, as brown as worn cardboard. She believes she looks just like Elsa, and, right now, her little friends do, too. They do not seem to care that she is the darkest of them all. She is so innocent; they all are. When does this go wrong? When does color become all we see? When will she lose her right to be a princess, to play in the yard, to be a star? My one wish is for her is to be a princess forever. But castles crumble, and crowns fall.

Over and over again I have been told that I do not belong here, that I am the Other. But I do not belong out there, either. I eat rice with a fork, I have never worn a sari in my life, I listen to the Beatles, I do not speak any other language. I am American, born and raised. And if I do not belong here, do not belong there, do I belong anywhere?

I am still waiting to find out.

2015 Scholastic Writing Awards Gold Key, American Voices Medal Winner

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