In September, I had the opportunity to meet with, interview, and moderate a campus event for Sophia Chang, manager of the Wu-Tang Clan, Raphael Saadiq, and D’Angelo. I used to play "Voodoo” like a drug. We first met during Joey Bada$$’s lecture here and I recognized her hat from a YouTube video. She was partying it up in a place with light as yellow as her skin. She talked about smashing the box, enwhitlement, and micprogressions. She talked about the soundtrack of her life, which was no longer hip-hop because hip-hop was mad young, brimmed with youth, made by youth, angry as youth, fresh, new, changing, and overflowing with that I’m-going-to-hit-you-up-around-midnight-and-we-are-gunna-go-out sort of energy, and she said, “If you’re my age and hip-hop is still the soundtrack to your life, you are probably an asshole,” which was the first time I’d heard about the complacency of age in such definitive terms.
So I am interested in youth and the special breed of it that exists in yellow Americans, which may or may not be the force that brings people in our motherland to Botox and surgeries and skin rejuvenations, but is definitely the force that drives Eddie Huang to dress like a teenager and listen to hip-hop forever; David Choe, a millionaire at age 40, to roll up peanut butter and Wonderbread in a ball so he could “glue [his] stomach together” in a hitchhiking show in honor of his teenagedom; and Wong-Fu Productions to keep making millennial cheesy romance videos. The way our public figures seem unapologetically young forever. The part of me seeded by nigahiga, kevjumba, JustKiddingNews, and all that YouTube. The memes and text-talk and colors that pervade Maggie Lee’s “Mommy.” That spring of gorgeous, insatiable language coming from Jenny Zhang’s poetry and essays, which can’t be traced to Morrison or Hemingway or Faulkner, but may possibly be traced to the way we talk to one another now, pop, contemporary and fleeting. Tech geeks and new money and fashionistas and foodies and Angry Asian Americans.
I was yellow in the way I was young, which is also the way I was free and the way I was drawn, the way I was perceived and the way I conceived myself. Because before I understood the weight of this country on my parents, I knew how to type by touch. Before I’d seen a photo of my mother in college, I knew how to be Ninja, Gangster, Emo, and Nerd in five easy lessons. My father converted to Christianity because to him, New Jersey reeked of uncertainty and evil. I stuck out in my half-Italian, half-Nigerian church trying to make the eyeliner fit right on my monolid. To me, I was born without precedence, because where was I going to sit on Rosa Parks’s bus? Where was I when Scarlet O’Hara cried to her mammy? Why did I need the history of this country if it didn’t need me?
I am orphaned because I was uneducated. Because my mother left her motherland with no intention of going back, I am an orphan born from orphans. I am defined not by my history or my hierarchical place or the legacy of my parents, but by my existence, which is my youth. Because I am grasping onto my mother’s hand, a quarter of her size, and she is learning from me how to be American. I learned from her how to be alive.
But can we be young and dumb forever? In some ways, Harvard has reminded me of that burdensome, overbearing youth that shaped my conception of racial identity, because what struck me most when I arrived was the same hollow lack of non-youth. It granted me the tangibility of an allegory, which I can share here.
A friend of mine ghosted a girl because he was three months deep and still hadn’t touched her. He took me to Kanye instead. TD Garden looked bigger than I thought it would. Kanye stood tiny on his platform and we felt light-years away. We sat because it was better than dancing. At midnight, a man stopped us on the street and tooth-smiled, called us Mister and Missus China. We laughed on and off the way back home.
That Tuesday, I saw Stephanie from Haiti who works in Lev, one of the only adults besides my parents who showed me a semblance of spiritual peace. I once this summer bought blueberries for her from the Business School and on a separate occasion wrote out Psalm 20 because she told me she loved my smile. She called me baby. She told me that the sun was too strong for my hair to be stuck to my neck like that. She spent Sundays at church, one of which was her pastor’s birthday, and I asked if she danced at church, and she said no, and then demonstrated how she lifted her hands so they reached to God. That Tuesday, I told her about Kanye, how late we were out ('til three) and how the setup was (fire) and how his speech about caring for people was (after the performance, before the encore, and kinda genuine maybe). I told her she would have loved it. She laughed like I was mad, then scolded me for being out in Boston so late, and I promised her I wouldn’t do it again and I wouldn’t have done it for anyone other than Kanye, and then I said someone called me Missus China, and she seemed more appalled than I had been.
Then she asked when I was going to go to church with her and I said next next week, but by then, I realized I lost the paper she wrote the address on and someone texted me that she was holding up a sign at that picket line, so I looked and looked and looked and haven’t seen her since.
Christina M. Qiu '19 lives in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.