Fall 2021

Boxed In

By Linh Tran

“So, Jenny, tell me. How do you feel about reinforcing stereotypes with your very behavior?” Ian’s straight face amused her even more than the question did.

“You’re asking me how it feels to validate the white man’s perception of our entire culture? Positively back-breaking, of course. Why won’t anyone else contribute?” Jenny paused, waiting to see if he would squirm, on account of him being a white man. He did. “No, I’m kidding. It’s disappointing and infuriating. On one hand, I hate that people perceive me as that, without me even trying. On the other hand, of course they see me like that! That’s who I am.”

“And what exactly do they see you as?”

“Quiet, shy, smart, kind, obedient, the perfect mix of the model minority myth and the china doll fantasy.”

Ian nodded and motioned for her to continue. She instead stared at the documentary camera in front of her. Her gut churned as the weight of the situation set in. Was it worth it to unravel her whole life’s story, just for him to dissect and cut through it? She doubted he would even listen, more intent on transforming her into another token in the war of diversity and virtue-signaling.

“How does that impact you?” His expectant eyes fueled the quiet anger in her. Deep breaths.

 “We’re told to be ourselves and not uphold these oppressive stereotypes and the white supremacy it protects. That’s right, because the longer we hold on to these ideas, the more people get hurt and the more people get killed. But I’m—I’m a hypocritical existence, because I continue those perceptions I hate. I fear that all my other efforts at rectifying injustice will never offset the damage I do by living. Now if I were a little bolder or a little less of a people pleaser, I could be less like an idealized version of the Asian woman. But that’s the point, isn’t it?” Jenny laughed, either at her own pain or the way his eyes shifted side to side. 

Before she went on, Ian reached behind the camera to stop recording. His hardened jaw and shaking hands didn’t go unnoticed. “I thought we agreed on what you were going to say.”

One blink. Two blinks. She opened and closed her mouth. This was expected. What came next? “Isn’t that, isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid here? You trying to tell only the palatable parts of my story? That’s so gross.” His eyes narrowed, and she feared she went too far. “You’re editing anyways. Just cut out what you don’t want.”

“Follow the script. It’ll be faster.”

“I don’t want to.”

“My god, use the same genius brain that those professors love so much. No one important knows you. This film will be your way of changing that. Think of it as networking!” His face fell. “Plus, you’ll help me secure that first place. It’s the least you could do.”

He was right. This was nothing compared to the sleepless nights he spent scouring the web, trying to clean up her drunken mess… even though she didn’t ask him to. He was right too, about this being an opportunity. She could be throwing away her chance for recognition. Or she could be throwing away the most despicable part of herself. Tapping her foot, she weighed the options; every time, the wrong choice outweighed the right one. 

Fatigue overcame her, in a familiar process that occurred whenever she had tried to escape these self-constructed boxes for the past twenty years.

“Fine then.”

 She hated herself when she saw how his face morphed into a full grin, pleased at her reversion to the ticks-all-the-boxes, unthreatening, predictable, boring girl. It was the same hate she felt about finding comfort in deferential silence, in passing tests with flying colors, in folding into soothing snippets. She danced the wrong dance, and it seemed she could never stop because of something she never understood. 

The rest of the interview felt like oil slipping down someone’s throat. Afterwards, Jenny ran to the restroom to scrub off the disgust she felt. Looking at herself in the mirror, what stared back was her whitened face with a soft red lip and lightly lined eyes. Complete with long, silky black hair, she even looked the part, a perfect porcelain doll. “Fuck.”

Linh Tran is a high school junior from the Seattle, Washington area who enjoys watching cultural documentaries.

Fall 2021