Being a Victorious Asian in America
By An Quynh Nguyen
Age 8, Milpitas (Santa Clara County)
Joseph Weller Elementary School
Hi! My name is An Nguyen. I am an eight-year old Vietnamese girl. For me, it is pretty easy growing up Asian in America. I left Vietnam when I was eighteen months to come to America with my family: Mom, Dad, my older brother and my older sister.
When I turned two, I started preschool. At age five, kindergarten. After finishing kindergarten, I went to first grade. During first grade, I joined an all-Vietnamese Girl Scout troop that speaks Vietnamese. I also attend Vietnamese language school on Sundays. Now, I am in second grade! I enjoy writing, reading, doing math and many other things. I usually finish my homework packet by Wednesday, even though it is due on Friday. In school, I often spend time with my friends, Riddhi, Aliyah, Crystal and Michelle. We like playing games together, but I especially enjoy playing with Riddhi, my best friend!
I work in a team everyday. At school, my teacher puts us in pairs or small groups to work on projects. We share ideas and help one another to get the job done. In Girl Scouts, we sing songs and play games as a team. By working together, we get to know each other better and become closer friends.
Competition also helps me strengthen my skills. In the Girl Scouts, when we play knot relay, we help each other tie knots, and the team that finishes all the knots first, wins. Trying to tie the knots fast makes me a better knot tier. Like they always say, "Practice makes perfect."
I enjoy entering contests, like this one, because competing makes my skills become stronger. Even if I do not win, I will still learn something new. For example, when I entered a Spelling Bee at my after school program, I sometimes ran into words that I did not know. So I practiced more and became a better speller.
More important than winning or losing is learning and becoming the best that I can be. If I keep trying and never give up, my own history will be victorious!
Growing up Filipina in Berkeley
Age 10, Berkeley (Alameda County)
Le Conte Elementary School
Growing up in a Filipino family, my parents expect us to do our best so that we can take care of ourselves and others when we grow up, like my widowed Lola who took care of 7 kids on her own and found a way to bring them all to the U.S. I guess taking care of ourselves means learning to be competitive, like my sister who wants to get good grades and to do well in school to get a good job. I never considered doing my best as competing against other people. Instead, my parents have always encouraged my sister and I to be self-disciplined. For example, I have been practicing piano nearly every day for the last five years. I am also very committed to singing and so I commute to San Francisco from Berkeley three days per week and willingly give extra time and effort to participate in operas like Tannhäuser and The Little Prince. This self-discipline to become better is enjoyable and rewarding!
I love learning, even more than I love my favorite Filipino dish, adobo. I love it so much that I am learning some analytic geometry because I see my 14-year old sister studying it. Now that I think of it, I tend to compete with my sister. My sister is my role model and inspiration. She is amazing because of her passion in art, soccer, piano, drama, and academic subjects. From her example, I try to excel in many areas. Unfortunately, without realizing it, my success in music has discouraged her to continue taking music lessons. I realize that when we see people doing amazing things, we try to do the same because sometimes we think doing amazing things makes you an amazing person. It is sad that sometimes people see our effort and success as unwelcome competition.
Although my parents expect us to do our best, it is definitely okay to be average. As long as you try your hardest and don't get discouraged, you will improve. For example, in chorus, for a long time, I wasn't noticed very much. After a while though, because I did my best at my accuracy, memorizing, and expression, I got complimented on memorizing my songs early and having cheerful expressions. Being average is okay. Being average lets you know that there is room for improvement, and if you work at it, you will realize you have gotten better.
While competition exists in chorus, teamwork is much more important. It takes every different voice to make beautiful music. In a big group, it is much better to work together than to stand out. Yesterday, I auditioned for a solo in The Little Prince and I don't think I got it. This is like losing, but I shouldn't be discouraged because I get to contribute the color of my voice to this amazing, delightful opera.
Does being Filipina-American make me think different about competition and teamwork? I don't think so. I go to school at Le Conte, where kids come from all parts of Berkeley and from around the world-China, France, Norway, Mexico, Korea, India, et. cetera. But even if we are being raised differently because our families are from different places, we're now in America, in Berkeley, and kids who are together, and do things together, start thinking and hoping for the same things together. We all want to be good at something, and I think our parents all hope we can take care of ourselves. As kids, we may not all be ready to compete, but we try to cooperate. For me, as a Filipina-American, winning or losing is not as important as doing my best and also helping others.
Victory: The Ultimate form of Defeat
By Isvari Mohan
Age 11, San Jose (Santa Clara County)
Lotus Education Center
I once read in an ancient Indian novel that 'Victory is an ultimate form of Defeat'. I never understood this statement then, and perhaps I still don't understand the logic behind this concept. However, it started making sense to me when I read the poem, "After Blenheim" written in 1799 by Robert Southey, an English poet. In this poem, Kasper, an old man and his two grandchildren discuss the Blenheim war - one of the most important wars of the Spanish Succession fought between the English and the French early in the eighteenth century. In every verse, the grandfather recalls the events of the war and says that it was a great victory, but he never can explain why. Over fifty thousand people were killed in that war, and a lot of blood was shed, yet it was touted to be a great victory by the Allied forces. It was then that I realized that winning often comes at a huge price-that is when somebody wins, someone else may lose even more.
In today's world, "winning" has taken even more a singular definition. Winning at all costs, at any cost, seems to be the call of the day, without consideration of what is lost in the process. Winning a war, for example, seems to be so important to some people that they lose sight of the destruction they cause and the number of people that are killed or become homeless as a result. The Second World War was won by dropping an atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The Allied "victory" was marred by indiscriminate destruction and the death of thousands, a devastation that people are still coping with today-a great defeat in itself.
The loss of civilian lives since 2001 in the Afghan and Iraq "war on terror", far exceeds the number of people killed in the World Trade Center attack or, as a matter of fact, the number of people killed in all the terrorist attacks in the past century. An eventual "victory" in this war, if there should be one, would come at the cost of many more innocent lives. The only way a true victory could be won is if the war is ended and peace is established in the Middle East.
It is not just in wars that the paradox of winning and losing exists. We can see this in many other facets of our lives as well. For example, think of the sparkling diamonds or the Tanzanite gems that people buy for Valentines Day. Perhaps they came at the cost of enslaved people in Africa, who work very hard in the mines for almost no pay. Many die every year in the deep, dark mines; some of the dead being children, who have never had a new shirt, let alone a ring from the stones they mine. The mining companies make millions of dollars from selling the jewelry produced from these gemstones; but the people who suffer to make these riches happen, bring out the defeat of these spectacular "victories" in business.
Even our presidential election is a typical example of such a deception. The candidates not only exaggerate their own achievements, but spend more time in demeaning the other candidates at every opportunity they get. When a candidate finally wins, it would not be because of his or her own virtues but because of the vices and faults of the others.
Sports is not an exception to this paradigm either. Use of muscle enhancing drugs, steroids, and growth hormones in competitive sports by athletes has been all over the news in recent days. Many sports stars from team sports like baseball to individual sports like the Olympic track and field have been caught using steroids to win. But this type of winning is the perfect example of a defeat in victory. In the end, many who abused drugs were exposed and all their honour was lost, but the fact remains that this is what winning seems to be about these days.
It is not just what I see on television, hear on the radio, or read in the news magazines that bring out the Blenheims of the twenty-first century. I have also seen this kind of a "losing victory" in my own classroom-an event that I will remember for a long time: Every Friday, a weekly test was passed out in my Spanish class. Often when taking this test, I would look up and see a boy in my class, named Luis, cheat. He would look sneakily at either my paper or the paper of the girl behind me, Alisa. Alisa and I would always get an A+ grade on these tests. Since neither Alisa nor I mentioned Luis' cheating to the teacher, his grades went up, and he thought that he had succeeded. Then at the end of the year, the time came for the final exam from which we would get our overall grade and our placement in Spanish. It was held in the school library and since we were all assigned different seats, Luis had no chance to look at our papers. As Luis was not prepared and could not cheat, he failed the test. Out of the 230 questions, Luis had got just 22 right! Luis was very ashamed and embarrassed, especially since he got demoted a grade.
His constant winnings had ultimately turned to a failure. This incident had also showed me how a victory can ultimately become a form of defeat by the means we use to achieve it.
From worldwide wars to cheating in classrooms, with so many examples all around us, it is sometimes unclear as to what true winning is. Is it just a form of defeat? Or do we choose to make it a form of defeat by the way we win and the methods we use to achieve it? Now I believe that the meaning of victory is really intrinsic in the process rather than the
outcome. Winning by devious or destructive methods is never a victory, but merely a form of defeat. It is better to be defeated but be compassionate, fair, and honest rather than be victorious but have won by brutality, subordination, or deception. Therefore in my opinion, Victory could be an ultimate form of Defeat depending on how one achieves their goal.
Idiot and Genius
By David Jihoon Noh
Age 12, San Mateo (San Mateo County)
Abbott Middle School
You come to America without a good command of English. You may think you will be the bottom of the class because you do not know English well. Throw away that mind in a trash can. I am here to tell you that anybody can be the top of the class like a king of the students if you are determined to reach there.
I started school in America just a year ago as a 6th grader, in February 2007. I had to go to a school district to take an English test because I came from Korea where English is not a main language. The test result was not good, so I was placed in low level ESL classes. There were English, Math, Science, and Social Studies classes specially designed for ESL students. It was a very nice system, however it was kind of a segregation based on language skills. I felt like I was separated from normal kids and I felt like a second class student. I was not happy at all.
After a week in the ESL class, I had a serious conversation with my mom and we decided to talk to a counselor in the school. Luckily, our school has a very good counselor. She understood me and gave me permission to get into regular classes. On top of that, she assigned me to a Core teacher who was very understanding, kind and patient. Finally I was able to be with NORMAL STUDENTS, but that was the only beginning.
During the class I could not understand everything. Sometimes I thought I learned nothing and did not even know what my homework was. Of course it was not easy to understand what the teachers and kids said to me. Even sometimes I was called "IDIOT." I became very lonely. I tried hard to be their friend, but nobody gave me a look and nobody played with me. I was shocked. I thought I was a normal kid like them. Sometimes, a few kids talked to me, but I discovered that they were just trying to make fun of me because they want to show their friends that they were cool. I hated them but I did not get into a fight. Instead I ignored them and promised myself, one day I will be the top of the school, the state, the United States of America, and the world.
I knew if I want to win something, I must sacrifice another thing. I knew if I do not give up things which give me fun, I will not achieve my dream. I gave up one big thing, GAMES. I quit video games and computer games. It was really hard to give them up because I had been called "A GAME KING" when I was in Korea. I had been very popular because of that. I had been very proud of that, but I gave them all up. I felt very sad about it at that time, but I had no choice. I am still keeping my promise.
"Holy Cow! Now you can speak English" "Wow, you can talk." I started to hear these things in the school after about 6 months. That was really fun, and slowly I was able to find good friends. Finally, I received straight A's in the first trimester of the 7th grade and I won a principal's award. I was very happy and proud of myself. I shouted and jumped with joy and happiness. Now sometimes my classmates call me "GENIUS." I appreciate my school counselor, principal, teachers, and friends for their patient support.
In January of 2008, twin boys came from Poland to my school and stayed a month for their vacation time. Of course they did not speak English well, but I knew their feelings. I did not call them idiots because I knew they could be geniuses. I helped them talk in English, introduced them to classes and students, and took them to the lunch court and many places in school. I tried to be their company because I did not want them to feel lonely just because of the poor language skill.
Idiot and Genius! It's like the two sides of a coin. If you have a passion to show your genius side and you believe you can do it then you really can do it. Thomas Edison once defined genius as 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I totally agree on this and do keep this in my mind always. I believe I have passion to win and reach my goals. If I try hard with my passion and effort, I believe there is nothing I can not do in this world. Whenever I remind myself of this saying, I feel like my dream will become true 100%, and I will be a great person who will be written in history. My dream is a Supreme Court Judge who makes decisions without any prejudice.
In Pursuit of the Queen
By Daisy Shih
Age 17, Los Altos Hills (Santa Clara County)
I saw Prestige walking up to me in the parking lot of my church the other day; a week ago she blew my relentlessly straight black hair with a breath of enticing bittersweet. She pulses down the aisles of the Stanford Green Library as I pour over massive Congressional Records for my AP US History research paper, whispering, "Come to Me and I will give you rest." She has graffitied her name all over higher education, has claimed the de facto epithet of 2400 SATs and 5 APs, and promised poor beggars a refuge and a reward for their toils. Her son is Harvard and her banner waves against an ominous sky threatening a life of poverty to those who do not "make it great." But, oh, her promises-so winsome, so salacious-deposit her in the throne of our hearts as a white-faced queen offering Turkish delights. And some spectators have even started to say that the Asians are especially set on getting those Turkish delights.
But "college" is not the only buzz word zipping from Asian parent to Asian parent, pressuring their kids to imbibe from an educational fire hydrant and play ten different instruments and be Student Body President, because-though we hate to admit it-it's all about Madame Prestige. My parents' generation still struggles with proving themselves as worthy candidates of their own families: CEOs, doctors, at least an engineer, no doubt. The number of square-feet in their house, the kind of car they drive, and their yearly income still haunt the lonely moments and gossipy mutterings between family friends, making good small talk over ancient Chinese tea; as hard as it is to believe, many middle-aged adults still care about what their parents think of them. And whether it lies in the power of nature or nurture, or both, this necessity to capture Prestige by the tulle of her skirt has passed on to their first-generation American children.
While baby America shouted "Independence!" and "Individualism!" and "Follow your dreams!" there often seems to be only one race to win, one goal to reach. It sits perched up on a craggy precipice and we are all climbers carrying little ice axes and mounting its frosty countenance. And the best a climber can possibly do is cling on with all her might, lest she fall off the cliff into God-knows-where. For the Asian high school scholar, "competition" does not begin to describe the trek; a failed quiz here, a weak essay there, cut my skin and blood trickles without time for antiseptic. To keep up with the climbers around me, I must continue, and the cold will freeze up my wounds before I know it. For the cold has also frozen our hearts like icebergs that seem mildly ambitious on the surface, but with immense tumors of competitive envy beneath the violent waves. The grueling hate when a best friend does better, the claws that clench within us when an award goes to someone else-there is a depth to our emotions, a frightening connection between test scores and self-esteem, that few dare to investigate.
I used to live life as if academia was the threshold between life and death. As an Asian child of affluent background, I still find competition a constant undercurrent in the ocean of academic work. Prestige used to be my savior; her promises were too beautiful to forego. "I know you have a little shrine to your GPA," grimaced my history teacher, "and you sacrifice a small animal every now and then," and he's right. My climb was everything and I was so willing to make my offering at the altar-be it my own Iphigenia, Isaac, or pet camel-as long as I could win me a title that would obliterate the bitterness of green tea. Prestige meant good gossip, it meant preserving face, and it meant bragging rights, so I kept my eyes on the ever-darkening cliff and trudged on. Soon, the climbers around me disappeared from my eyes, not because they quit, but because I quit caring about them. It was all about me: my goals, my dreams, and how I would achieve them all. Goddess Prestige cried, "You are almost there, my precious; you will make it; this is about you; forget them, you go for your dream. I will reward you." And, well, as her voice bounded from a distant mountaintop to the face I surmounted, others heard the same lie. I was convinced, won over, and Prestige had made her conquest.
And as much as we are led to believe that we win-at saving face for our family, gaining a reputation for ourselves, outsmarting the kid next door-it is really a victory for that formidable queen in white. When in fifth grade I received the departmental English award, something I had worked toward with my heart and soul, a strange phenomenon occurred within me: as my modesty and consideration for others died at the sword of my new hauteur, my insecurities rose. The craggy cliff, which had seemed so ominous and lurid, was surmounted, beleaguered, made nothing. I found myself standing atop my own mountain with a crown as promised, yet so alone as I stared out at the icy tundra. Only then did I realize that standing at the top meant worrying about falling down. It meant glancing diffidently at my peers, who had reached for the same crown and failed. My heart was empty, and the fulfillment Prestige had promised-the Turkish delights-only made me hunger for something deeper.
It was once said that those who seek their lives will lose it, and the road to finding ourselves lies in deserting our selfish ambitions and desires. And I am a believer of Him who spoke those words, because I no longer desire to live in vassalage to the queen who never did deliver. My new race has begun: a race of love, support, peace, humility. I plunge myself back into the world of icy cliffs and climbers, not to climb them myself, but to throw a lifeline to frightened trekkers. I see their dreams, just as vibrantly as I had envisioned my own, and I await their turn to join me in this race that brings all to victory. If there is a moment I yearn for, it is no longer that of my own rise to fame as I bring home another trophy of status. Instead, I keep my eyes on distant Everest, until the Sun rises over the ice, and melts Prestige herself.
 In the Bible, Matthew 11:28
 As the word "prestige" has become a common epithet for Harvard, I have no personal biases against the oldest school in the country.
 Thanks to the beloved story by C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
 These remarks are based on actual conversations with adult Asian immigrants.
 Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, who sacrificed her to appease goddess Artemis. Isaac, son of Abraham, who almost sacrificed his son to the God of Israel.
 In the Bible, Matthew 16:25