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By Valerie Wu
Gold is a prominent moving force in California. The first week of school, our APUSH teacher told us to write down what we deemed the most important part of American history was—what we wanted to learn most about, she said. I wrote down the history of immigration in the United States, but my fellow classmates wrote down the American Revolution, slavery, the Gold Rush. We had learned about the Gold Rush in history lessons, units on a history unique to California— the pursuit of gold was placed in juxtaposition to Spanish missions and the Oregon Trail. Gold aligned with the American Dream in a way few events do as a physical manifestation of opportunity. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, or identity — is searching for gold of some sort. I’m searching for gold too, but the gold I’m searching for is hard, brittle, and tangible.
My gold is the yellow that lies at the bottom of the pan, the yellow that appears when you look hard enough. I searched for it all throughout my Asian-American community, found none, moved somewhere where I thought I could. Yellow is blinding when there’s too much of it. Search for “amazingly powerful Asian women and spokespersons for race” online, see how many hits you get. Oh, did you mean “amazingly powerful women,” I think that’s what you meant. Asian, strikethrough. Race, strikethrough. Maybe I could see gold if it didn’t exist; they always told me I saw the unreal. When I sat at the side of my APUSH class, I saw the daughters of veterans from Gettysburg. I saw girls who wore their yellowness like a skin they could shed. When I saw this, I wanted to cry. Maybe it was homesickness. Maybe it was the feeling that wherever I went, whatever I saw, there was white, and black, but no yellow. I wasn’t good at APUSH, at least not in the sense others were, and though I initially attributed it to the tests, the teacher, my participation (or lack thereof), I began to realize that it was more a sense of displacement than anything else. The textbook we used in APUSH never mentioned Mulan like the textbooks in Taiwan did. I didn’t climb into the car with my book on Confucian ideology at hand—Chinese history at its finest, ready to go to the nearest Family Mart (chuan-jia) to buy a canteen of Yakult before class started.
Maybe I wasn’t good at APUSH because I was always homesick for my home, the home not in the United States. Maybe I wasn’t good at APUSH because I couldn’t define what home was in the textbook narrative of America. Yes, I could talk about the first establishment of democracy, or how the American Revolution was symbolic of independence, but I didn’t understand why these events mattered to me. In the eyes of my peers, I was yellow and had tiny eyes. I was the kind of person the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 prohibited from entering. You could pan it from any angle you wanted. The contents were still the same.
I think that since I’ve grown into myself a little more, I’ve started to realize how much value there is in a person that looks like me. It’s both a blessing and a curse to be colorblind. The history of America won’t be inclusive until we make it inclusive with Angel Island, Lunar New Year festivals, and our Chinatowns. To be American means to see value, and to be American means to know value when you see it. For me, I see value in the diverse range of experiences I’ve read about in books, real narratives of the American Dream and story. That kind of rawness and authenticity thrills me. When I’m reading one of those stories, I don’t just see red, white, and blue. I see colors—colors that are as messy as they are brilliant, colors that are a catalyst for revolution. I don’t see opportunity in America without color.
I’m searching for myself through literature, the kind that inspires and empowers. Sometimes, I’m reading my history textbook, highlighting all the important parts in neon yellow, and I think that I’ve never really found yellow at all. The yellow I know is built from the remnants of Amy Tan’s Mahjong club, the overwhelmingly heartbreaking and resilient narrative of the Chinese people from Iris Chang’s The Chinese in America--all the writers that write what matters. When I find the character that resembles me most in color and exterior, that’s when I’ll see the yellow I’ve been trying so hard to find. And I think that’s when I’ll finally find gold—hard and brittle, but tangible.