WORDS: JANE MORTELL '18
This piece won the Cole Prize this year. The Cole Prize is given annually to first-year student for fiction or non-fiction creative writing.
Made in China. How do these three seemingly insignificant, unadorned words mesh together to form the most basic, yet most indispensable part of myself? Admittedly, this short phrase certainly doesn’t exude emotional, heart-wrenching effervescence, and, I will grant you, there is not even a whiff of poetic nuance. Yet, despite all of their un-remarkableness, these three ordinary words establish my identity in this country. Much like the chair you may be lounging in or that pen you might be fiddling with, I, too, was Made in China and later shipped to America. Although my processing and distribution may differ slightly from the mass-produced goods lining the glossy shelves of Walmart, I still consider myself a product of China. Here I go, my background story in 523 words. Challenge accepted.
Some sixteen years ago, I, a wee baby girl, was left on a federal doorstep in Gaoyou. Swathed in a blanket and nestled in a basket, I had apparently merited a comfortable abandonment. Presumably found wailing and soiled, I was brought to a local orphanage. There I would reside until the day my ever-roaming, curious pupils would gaze into the melted chocolate brown eyes of a peculiar, pale woman.
Who was she? She was uncomfortably foreign looking: she was white as paper and grinning nervously. Her bushy brown hair was voluminous and funny to swat, and she spoke an unfamiliar, garbled gibberish. Upon our first meeting, this woman tried to hold me, but all that induced within my terrified self was incessant wailing. The one thing I wanted at that very moment was for my nanny to reclaim me and hold me snugly. That never did happen again.
August 25, 1997 was the day I left the orphanage – it was the day I left my home. I’ve been told that the first few days living alongside my nervous new mom were unbearable. I most certainly was not the image of the blissful baby you see crawling merrily about the front pages of baby magazines – what with my nonstop flood of salty tears and nose dribbling. After cajoling me with delectable desserts, however, mom and I – excuse my clichéd-ness – began our surprisingly pleasant journey together.
We soon boarded a sleep-inducing fourteen-hour-long plane ride. After exiting the very vessel that transported me from my old life to my new one, I was immediately enveloped by Americanism. I was raised in a white household, masked by a deceptively Asian exterior. Caught between my original Chinese heritage and my white upbringing, my split self blossomed into my forever-bifurcated identity. Not only does my exterior culturally clash with my interior, but my Asian appearance also belies my true split self; my one layer of protection – my complexion – contradictorily funnels obstacles and grief my way. I am oftentimes mistaken to be solely Asian, and the other half of my identity is all but neglected by the outsider’s eye.
Most of the world hastily hones in on my physical distinctions from my surrounding sea of white; I just don’t fit in, and thus I am cast away from the Mortell Puzzle. I’ll admit that being the black-haired sheep of the family created a schism that separated me from my flock.
But shall I let the world negligently define me? Defeat me? No, of course not. I have, through self-motivation and necessity, managed to find an infinitesimal part of the world that delves in deeper past my face value; only then do these few people discover my layers. They uncover my split self, and they accept me.
These friends have helped me through my gradual transition to self-appreciation. I have finally come to lovingly embrace my idiosyncrasies. And so, 17 years and some months later, here I am: Janie Mortell – Proudly Made in China (however, I do not contain even the slightest bit of lead) and Processed in the USA (admittedly, I do contain a minuscule amount of McDonalds).