How to Date a Brown Boy, a Black Boy, a White Boy, or a Halfie

By Nina Reyes

The brown boys from your hood will smile at you as their hands stray past your back in the reluctant hug you gave them. You shake them off you and quickly laugh. Excuse it as a shiver. They smile at you, teeth glinting like sharp knives. They lean in and whisper things into your ear that make you laugh as goosebumps spring up all over your arms. You tilt your head to the side and look at them real hard. They may not be the most good looking, but if you never known anything else these are your options. You smile, giving them your number. You hope he texts, or calls. He won’t. He’ll text back after hours. He is merely playing with you. And you know. Oh do you know.

This game that seems to never finish. Of the flirting, the looks. The lies, the deceit. You don’t want to play, but it’s not as if you have a choice in that matter. All the other girls from your hood do it, and all your tias have been bugging you, asking if you have a novio or an amiguito. Some part of you likes the game, likes the small thrill that shoots up your body from the chase. Everybody you know does it. So you might as well join in.

The black boys will regard you at a higher standard than they do the black girls. You don’t think about it for a while. Loving the attention, you kiss them and date them. You never bring one home. You know what your parents will say. And if you do introduce them, you say sorry. You don’t know what your parents will say. They put up a good face while he’s there, and start commenting once the door closes behind him. He loves everything about you, mentions how your hair is beautiful. He’ll smile at you. If he’s from the hood, he’s probably cheating on you. You smile tightly. You know this game too well. Yet you’re going to keep playing.

The white boys will call you “exotic.” As if they never seen a brown face before. They say they like “spicy” girls like you. Girls full of fire. They say mami, and a bunch of other things in Spanish, butchering your mother’s tongue. They make jokes about those who look like you, and in the next minute whisper in your ear how different you are from “those people.” Your people. You shrug it away and laugh. You are told you hit jackpot. They mention how lucky you are and you respond with an “I know.” He meets your parents. They love him and his whiteness. Poking fun at him because of how lost he is in the conversation. He laughs and clutches your hand. Your mind eventually wanders to the ugly thought of when he will leave you for another girl. Or even worse. When he will leave you for a white girl.

This flash fiction was inspired by Junot Díaz’s short story from Drown, “How to Date a Brown Girl (A Black Girl, a White Girl, or a Halfie).

Country Bumpkin

By Victoria Kim

“Oi! Wake up, it’s time for school. Hello! You have to go to school today. Yah, you lazy bum, are you deaf? Get up and get ready for school right now!”

My mother was louder than any rooster in this country. She’s the reason why I refuse to buy an alarm clock. Her indecent slurs eventually wake me up. If they don’t, she makes sure to drag me by my hand and throw me onto the floor from the comfort and sanctity of my bed. She would smack me across my butt, reprimanding me for being slow and lazy, and tell me to get ready for school.

As an immigrant, my mother had a very specific motto for school and the purposes it served for me. She would never fail to remind me every day that the reason my father brought her and me to this country was for us to receive and never waste better opportunities, to be the best in this country.

“Remember, you go to school to study hard. If you study hard, you do good in SAT, and you go to good college. You go to good college and you get good job. You get good job, you get a lot of money. And if you get a lot of money, you become very happy.” That was my mom’s motto in life for me.

My mom was practically obsessed with my educational life. “Do you have a test this week? How did your friend do? Why is she doing better than you when you both get tutored? You better bring above a 90% home, or you might as well find another family! Remember to kiss up to the teacher’s ass so you will seem like a good student.” I would roll my eyes at her daily words of wisdom.

My mom seemed to believe that getting A’s was easy and perfectly attainable. Almost as if students could buy grades from their teachers, just like my mom would buy her clothes from the clearance section in Macy’s. As I would tie my sneakers bought on sale, I would say “I’m leaving!” She would come running around the corner and stuff my face with sweet curd; she believed that beginning the day with something sweet would always make it day better.

“Vicky!” my mom used to call. I looked back at her questioningly. “Remember, absolutely no boys. You’re of no age to date and flirt with guys. If you look a guy in the eye, you might fall in love with him. Oh, and if you even dare to touch a guy, you might even get pregnant!” I would slam the door on her face as I heard her saying, “Go to school safely, and stay away from the guys!”

In all the years I attended school, I would always hear my mom speaking in the background and telling me to get good grades. That didn’t prevent me from liking guys, though. Sure, she told me to stay away, but I was a woman. Given that she taught me that girls were meant to complete guys,  I might as well not take her words lightly, unless she expected me to bring a girl home. I remember my first crush from elementary school. He ended up going out with my friend and coming to me for homework help. I had a crush on one of my closest friends in middle school. When I confessed, he told me that he was asexual. I stopped pursuing him after that. My second crush from eighth grade seemed perfect. as I would gaze at him longingly from afar but never got the courage to confess to him. Then, I and watched him go. Then came high school. I liked a sophomore in freshmen year and built up all the courage to confess to him, but I ended up getting rejected, as usual. I attempted to talk to him even though I got rejected, but eventually, I gave up when I realized he was unemotional. I and gave up on him and my nonexistent love life all together.

It was as if my mother had bound me to a curse on me: a curse for not attracting anybody. I remember going to the temple with her and her telling me to ask God to keep all the guys away from me. Innocently, I obeyed her. Only now do I realize the mistake I made.

Why was my mother so tough? Yes, I realize that grades are important, and I was keeping up with them. But was it wrong to let someone in your heart once in a while? Was I really going to have to live the rest of my life fangirling over Korean actors and idols and screaming Oppa from my computer screen?

I had practically convinced myself that I was visually unattractive and I wasn’t very special. Korean dramas? Psh, they were just another myth. It took me awhile to realize that scripted stories can’t necessarily become reality. I wanted to have a conversation with my mother. Why was she being such a boob block to me?

“Mom?” I asked her.

“Yes, Vicky?” she replied.

“Why am I not allowed to look at a guy as a man? I mean, you taught me that a woman and a man completed each other, just like you and baba do, so why can’t I complete anybody?”

My mom looked at me with eyes full of amusement yet horror at the same time. “Vicky, you really are too young. You don’t understand men very well.”

Was she serious? “Ma! I’m a teenager– and a high schooler at that! I think I’m mature enough to understand guys and the society!”

“No, you aren’t!” my mom burst out. “Had you been as mature as I thought you were, you wouldn’t be asking such irrational questions!”

Irrational? Why was my question irrational?

“Vicky, never let a guy get between you and your career, goals, and motives in life. Honey, I didn’t even know I was getting married until my engagement day. How ironic is that! A bride who doesn’t even know she is going to be a bride! Don’t let yourself take my place. When I married your father, I was miserable. I had to leave my job and take care of our marriage. Your father wasn’t even there for me when you were born, and then he left for nearly two years after you arrived. When I came here, I was verbally abused by this man I called my husband. I prayed so hard to God to help me save our marriage, and thankfully, she did. I was so thankful when your brother came into my life, but that meant sacrificing my job and career, which I did happily. But then while  your dad left me to go earn money three days after your brother was born to go earn money. Vicky, I don’t wan’t you to go through the nightmare I have.”

I looked at her quizzically. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand how your life lecture is an answer to my question.”

My mom looked a bit hurt, but she shook it off as she took my hand. “Vicky, build yourself a stable future. Have a good career, and stand on your own two feet. Once you do, all the guys will coming running towards you, begging on their feet for your hand.”

She gave my hands a soft kiss and patted my head. “Never depend on a guy. That is the worst thing a woman can do. Once you depend on a guy, you are indebted to him. Your father tore me away from my family and career as I became bound to him, you, and your brother. That’s how much I depended on this man to help feed this family. Had I been able to study more, I would have been able to earn a lot of money. I could have married a guy of my choice rather than be forced into a marriage with a man I hated. I still regret the fact that I didn’t have any opportunities to complete my education and make myself a well respected woman.”

She looked at me again and said, “Vicky, complete your education. Have a stable career. Make a lot of money and then find a guy of your dreams. The guys you look at now are boys. They are immature. They haven’t been through anything. Have they suffered any losses or built a house with their bare hands? No. When you grow up as a successful, independent, mature, and beautiful woman, find a guy who will treat you with respect and dignity, unlike the guys who you look up to today. Those guys will treat you like any plaything. They will play with your emotions and hurt you and attempt to tear you up, which you aren’t ready for. When you grow up, find a man who has been through a lot and can respect and appreciate your presence, rather than these boys who fight over the number of girlfriends they have had in the past. But Vicky–“

“Yes, Mom?”

“Find a guy who can love you.”

I had always thought that my mother was being a typical Asian immigrant mother. I didn’t know what she was attempting to protect me from. I didn’t know she had suffered from so much. I didn’t know she didn’t want me to live the same terror she had experienced.

My mom didn’t want me to get good grades and earn money just to marry me off to a well respected stranger. But she was giving me a chance. A chance to find a guy who would respect and love me, unlike the guys I desperately want to hook up with. Those guys would want to hurt my feelings. Even if they ended up accepting me, they would grow tired of me after a week or so and throw me away for another Barbie. Those boys, I felt indebted to them just like my mom does to my father. I would feel indebted to them for liking me, and accepting me, and acknowledging me in front of everybody, and helping me gain academic success, and most importantly “loving” me back. I would never be able to easily let them go. However, if I grew up well rounded, then I wouldn’t have to feel indebted. I would like a guy for being my equal, for not having to be supported.

That’s when I made up my mind. Dating wasn’t a First World problem for me, and neither was it supposed to be a concern for an immigrant family. It was just an extra burden. The shocked reactions of my scandalized aunts when they heard of my cousins dating weren’t my biggest concern, and neither was it my mother’s. My biggest concern was to be successful and well rounded: a woman who could stand on her own two feet with no support whatsoever. My biggest concern was to not to misunderstand my mother and to look up to her for all that she has been through, just so that I could be successful.

“Vicky?”

“Yes, Mom?”

“You have beautiful eyes, just like your mother.” She looked a bit frightened, but strangely, her features softened. “However, your complexion is your own. Your aura and radiance are yours. Those are yours, Vicky. Don’t let anybody claim them.”

I smiled at my mother. This country bumpkin had a lot to understand and go through. This country bumpkin had many opportunities, and she was set to use them.

Out of the Closet

By Victoria Kim

In the days of celebration, whenever I am required to pick special clothes out of the special closet, I back away with fear. With the closet come the passionate screams, terrorized soft whispers, the shuffling of the monster’s body as it readies to devour its prey. With the closet comes numerous memories, memories I wish would wash itself away from my brain. Now I know many of you have been thinking, passionate? Must be a romantic rant, but it isn’t. Had it been romantic, I would have associated roses with the closet, but I can’t even associate thorns; I would need something much scarier.

It was my twelfth summer. I was labeled an innocent child, a true replica of the sweet virgin child expected of someone my age. I was quite ruthless as I was raised alongside my two elder brothers Ravi and Sam. I was far more interested in playing soccer with my brothers than going inside the kitchen to help my mom prepare food for the guests soon to arrive. My mother wanted to go on a tirtha to pray for the longevity of her family. She had asked me to accompany her.

Well, what I would I have preferred to do now? Go barefoot for miles and bang my head across the temple floors, asking God to reconsider my sins? Or would I prefer to lie in bed and get up only to reply to nature’s call?

I preferred the latter, which disappointed my mother, as she went on to give me an hour-long lecture on how unreligious I was. I was the type to pray to God before a test, asking God to help me get above a 90. I was rather joyful at the fact that I got to stay home with my brothers. Now we could spend the entire day playing soccer without having anyone screaming at us for not arriving home early for dinner.

However, my mother’s antagonistic character prevented me from living my life. “There is no way I am going to leave you home to the hands of men!” said my mother.

“Men, they’re my relatives! I know them, and I grew up with them!” I said.

“Have you even thought of what the neighbors would think? What would they think of me if I were to leave you in the hands of men?” she said.

The old fleabag really didn’t know how to stop. No matter how much I fought with her, she would always have it her way at the end. It would be better if I listened to her now rather than get a few beatings later on.

“Then where do you want me to live? On the streets, where a random stranger can come and pick me up anytime?”

That got her. I knew it would. She gave me a shocked face full of horror, possibly wondering what kind of idiot she had given birth to. Her only daughter was thinking the way all the women of her family were taught now to.

“Why, of course not! I’m not that bad of a mother, for heaven’s grace! You have many relatives. I’ll arrange your stay with one of them. And if none of them are available, then I will have no choice but to take you with me.”

From that moment on, I started praying earnestly for one of my numerous relatives to let me live with them for a while. God must have felt the eagerness from my prayers, seeing as He answered them. My aunt and uncle said they would love to have me over until my mother came back.

As grateful as I was, I didn’t know what to think of the situation. Although my aunt seemed somewhat softhearted, my uncle was cold and distant from others. Whenever we would gather together for special occasions, my uncle would excuse himself from the rest of us and sit alone in the family library, casually reading the newspaper. My aunt was kind of pitiful, to be honest. She had lost her parents at a tender age. Her aunt and uncle were empathetic towards her, which made them adopt her whilst having a daughter themselves.

Although my aunt wasn’t treated maliciously, she wasn’t given the same special treatment as her cousin. When it was time for her to be married off, her aunt and uncle did their best to marry her of to a respectable family, and they succeeded in doing so. My uncle didn’t lack anything. Not only was he handsome, but he was also wealthy and well educated, as he owned his own entertainment industry.

When my aunt was married, everybody was happy for her. At last! She can taste joy in her life for once! However, things didn’t necessarily go as planned. She was left all alone on her wedding night since her husband had a matter of business to take care of. He would distance himself from her every day as my aunt tried to get closer to him.

My uncle was notorious for bringing people home. He would often claim that they were rookies who were waiting for a chance to hit it big in the music industry, but nobody knew what happened behind the doors. He would often bring home men ranging from adolescents to middle aged and take them inside his private chambers. When his servants started creating a scandal out of the whole issue and calling him gay, he started bringing home women of all sorts. My aunt didn’t say much about her husband’s disgraceful actions. She closed her eyes and blindly trusted him since she was afraid she would create a rift in their nonexistent relationship if she said anything to him; so, she kept quiet and let her husband’s cryptic acts pass.

I started packing my clothes and valuable items into a small suitcase my mother gave me. My aunt had sent a chauffeur to pick me up and take me to their estate. It was considerably nice to be swimming in luxury once in awhile, but the fact that I would have to encounter about my uncle eventually chilled me to my bones.

When I got to their house, my aunt rushed me into their estate while the servants greeted me enthusiastically. I locked eyes with my uncle, and I bowed down to him to show respect, which he acknowledged and left after greeting me back.

“Don’t worry about your uncle. He will be back with us for lunch. He is often busy with his work and giving the new rookies work,” said my aunt.

Although she was smiling at me, I could see the glint of sadness in her eyes as she showed me to my room. “If you need anything, just call me over. I will be in the room across from yours, so don’t hesitate. Just get comfortable and treat this house as if it was your own house.”

My aunt was the only one who reassured me that I was indeed living with loved ones and not a mental institute. Lunchtime came, but my uncle didn’t. When my aunt asked for his whereabouts, the servants replied that he had gone to his workplace to judge the audition of new trainees who wished to be a part of his agency.

My aunt’s face went pale as she put down her fork and knife. She looked at me and said, “Vicky, continue eating. I must have had a lot for breakfast, as I don’t seem very hungry at the moment.”

I nodded back to her and eagerly dug in to my four-course meal. Later that night, I lay on my bed and thought of my uncle. Was work so important to him that he couldn’t spare a moment for his loving wife, who had spent hours making lunch in hopes of him being there? If I had a job where I couldn’t see my family, I would have quit.

Sleep came after homesickness, because now I wanted to go back home were everybody wasn’t living their lives as fugitives and captors. I wanted to run home and jump into my mom’s arms, asking her to take me to her boring tirth. I wanted to go home and kick a soccer ball with my brothers. I wanted to go home and accompany my mom in the kitchen. I wanted to go home and do everything I once hated to do, anything but be here.

I woke up at the crack of dawn. The sun was still rising, as was I. I needed to find my aunt and ask her to send me home to the comfort of my brothers and the aromatic kitchen. I darted out of bed and went across the hallway to the room where my aunt and uncle were. I knocked softly as I said, “Auntie, Auntie, are you there? May I come in?”

No one replied. I twisted the doorknob to find it open. Did my aunt not fear the dacoits in the night? I tiptoed inside the room and closed the door behind me, preventing much noise. There was nobody on the four-poster bed. The lights were off. What was going on? If my aunt wasn’t there, then where was my uncle? Did he sleep in his office, too? Suddenly, I heard noises. It was the roars of the monster and the screams of its prey.

Now alert, I turned my head at the speed of a hawk’s, determined to figure out where the noise was coming from. The closet. The closet was shaking. Was it giving birth to a new monster? It shook so vigorously that I was afraid I may land underneath it. With each courageous step, I took in a deep breath, adamant about opening the closet. I needed to know what was in there. My hands shook as I turned the lock to open. In a flash, I opened the closet with the speed of lightning, and I screamed at the sight to behold in front of me.

The monster held its prey captive, bound with ropes. The prey’s wrist was bleeding as the ropes dug into its flesh. As for the monster, it looked like a deer caught in headlights. I looked the monster straight in the eye as it dared me to open my mouth. I was terrorized and shaking violently as I slammed the closet door and ran with all my might into my room. I shut the door closed as my legs let out. My aunt was really pitiful. Where was she? Did the monster devour her? How was I to tell her that the monster was no one else but her husband!

Until this day, I haven’t returned to my aunt’s house. In fact, she stopped coming to family reunions, along with the monster. The monster never came out of the closet. In fact, it is still known to secretly take its prey inside the closet and devour them. The monster hides itself like a coward. While some know its reality, it still hides from the world. To be honest, I now wish I had never seen the monster carrying out its rituals. Had I not, then my aunt wouldn’t seem as pitiful as she already does. From that day on, I would ask my mother to open the closet and pick out an outfit for me. I refused to look inside it. The closet had become my nightmare, my worst nightmare.

This story was inspired by Ismat Chughtai’s horror story, “The Quilt,” originally written in Urdu in the 1940s, from our unit on sexuality.