The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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My Journey Home
Anna Song
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The number 7 train to Flushing makes a loud, unending noise. On a sunny day, the bright light pours in through the dust-glazed windows, casting a wonderful feeling of warmth and cheerfulness inside. And sitting on the hard, gray bench, I absorb this warmth eagerly.

“Mommie, who’s driving this train? I don’t see the driver,” says a small 8-year-old girl.

“That’s because the train is magic,” replies the kindly mother. “It can go forwards and backwards all by itself. Didn’t you see that it has no wheels?”

That little girl was me, not too long ago.

That was during my second month in America, and in my innocence I had honestly believed my mother’s silly story. It made perfect sense to me then that a subway could be magic.

On Christmas Day we waddled in pure happiness among ripped gift wrappings and odd presents. (How I loved my big, “difficult-to-read” fairy tale book!)

Never mind that there was no warm, crackling fire to sit by, or even a fireplace where Santa could deliver his presents. (He found us anyway.) Who cared that the Christmas tree was a little warped, a little on the “unglamorous” side? It was a beautiful Christmas.

Time flies.

The last snow melts and finally evaporates into the air, leaving only a faint remnant of the dirt it picked up a long time ago. People are putting away their heaviest coats, saving them nicely, to be used again next winter. And the boldest flowers awake, blooming to their fullest, dying shortly after. Spring is just days away.

A little girl is walking happily from school. It is Friday and she can’t wait to go home. She wants to tell everyone that she just got her first 100 on a spelling test.

Suddenly, two big boys stop in front of her, blocking the little girl’s path. They are on bicycles. One of the boys, the one with the bright red hair, starts shifting his bicycle.

The little girl is afraid. She doesn’t understand why they are bothering her. What did she do? She wants them to go away, leave her alone!

“Hey you! What are you doing here, hunh? Why don’t you go back to China?” the redhead bellows.

“Yeah,” the other one follows, “you speak English!”

The little girl doesn’t say anything. She’s too afraid. She wants to run away, but the bikes are still in front of her.

“Why do you have funny-lookin’ eyes?”

“Why don’t you speak English?”

“What’s your name, hunh? Ching-Chong? Sheng-Meng?”

image by Allison Thornton

The little girl is running now. The tears in her eyes barely allow her to see where she’s going, but she doesn’t care. She can still hear the boys laughing, finding her fear hilarious. She just wants to go home, where it’s safe.

She never did tell anyone about the 100 on her spelling test.

Every time I used to think of that incident, my cheeks flushed and I’d feel so low and humiliated. But now there’s only a dull anger. Those boys were ignorant jerks and didn’t know much better. But they gave me my first taste of prejudice in America, and I guess that had to come sooner or later.

Later that day, after a good cry, I remember looking at myself in the mirror and seeing—I mean really seeing— that I was different from most of the kids in school. I had black hair instead of blond, dark brown eyes instead of cornflower blue.

What I’m trying to say is that I realized for the first time that America was not like Korea. Not everyone had the same color hair or eyes. There was bound to be some resentment, some misunderstanding.

My father once told me, “You don’t have to feel less important or special because some idiot can’t see that my daughter is just as good as another man’s daughter. Be proud that you are a Korean!”

And I think that I am. I like the fact that I can speak two languages and am learning two others, that I have a special homeland back in Korea, and a wonderful family that won’t ever let me forget who I am.

The subway jerks to a stop, causing some standing passengers to lose their balance and appear self-conscious. A scratchy, nasal voice announces, “There’s a slight technical problem, we should be moving shortly.”

A few people let out a small, annoyed sigh, I among them. Others give a quick glance at their watches or appear oblivious that anything has happened.

In the far left corner of the subway compartment hangs a large poster that reads, “Lotto Made Our American Dream Come True” And there’s a picture of about 20 immigrant men.

Ha! That’s a good one. My family came to America, traveled all that distance, so we could spend good money on some silly lottery game that would make our “American Dream” come true? OK, and I bet we came also to see how it feels to be stuck in a New York City subway—maybe even to read one of these ridiculous advertisements in the meantime.

The train is moving now, and the loud, unending noise begins again. Not bad. It was only a 10-minute delay.

What to look forward to once I reach home, sweet home? Well, for one thing, taking off my shoes and lying down on the sofa. My feet are killing me! Then I’ll probably click on the radio click to my favorite station, head for the kitchen, grab some potato chips, and head back to my room. Maybe I’ll want to fill my head with junk instead and watch some TV.

The point is, who knows what I’ll do? I’m just glad the train is moving.

Sometimes I wonder, “What would I be like had I never moved to America? Would I be happier in Korea? What would I be doing every day? Would I even have the same goals?”

Two years ago, my sister and I revisited Korea. We saw every one of our relatives. (I didn’t know we had so many!) We saw the good, the bad, the dirty, and the beautiful parts of Korea. We met our cousin, who in our childhood days had been just like us.

Yet when we talked and giggled and compared our lives, she wasn’t so much like us anymore.

Soon the scratchy, nasal announcement: “Main Street, Flushing. Last stop, everybody off!”

That is my signal. I pop a fresh piece of gum in my mouth, put away the blank papers I’m holding (I thought I was going to do a little writing in the subway), and stand up. It was a long ride, but I am finally going home.

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(NYC-1987-11-09)

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