The Taiwanese Experience: The Biggest Act of My Life – Creative Nonfiction by Jamie Su

Finalist, High School Category

[Act I, Prologue] 

I’ve never taken an acting class. Or been in a drama club. Or even auditioned for a play. But I am an actress. And a heck of a good one, at that. 

To start, my name isn’t even Vivian. It’s Yu-Wei, but they didn’t know how to pronounce that at my kindergarten graduation. My parents brought me to court and had it legally changed a month later. They were afraid that kids at school would make fun of me

I never told them that they already had. 

I wish someone would’ve stood up for me back then. I was five; I didn’t realize that when they pulled me aside one day in class and asked me which name I would rather use, and when I chose to be Vivian instead of Yo-Wee because the principal couldn’t have bothered to properly pronounce my name—the decision stuck with me forever. 

This is where my acting career begins. I am still Yu-Wei to my family, but to everyone else, I am Vivian.

[Act I, Scene I] 

Our first scene takes place in Ms. Mallow’s first-grade classroom. Mom packed me seaweed for snack time. Somehow, this greatly offended Nate Baker. 

That’s gross! He says, making a face at me. He gathers the rest of my classmates. All of them crowd around my desk, watching the spectacle. I try not to die of embarrassment. 

Alicia Deng, the only other Asian girl in the class, tells them to stop. Seaweed is delicious, she says. Nate just ignores her. 

Ms. Mallow makes her way over. She reprimands Nate, and she tells the whole class that they shouldn’t make fun of my food.

Nate doesn’t care. Seaweed is still disgusting, he says to the girl sitting next to him. She laughs and agrees. 

I didn’t tell Ms. Mallow that it kept happening. 

After all, I’m nice. I’m quiet. I’m likable. The last thing I needed was Nate Baker to hate me. When Mom asked me how school was that day, I told her it was fine. Nothing had happened. The next time she packed me seaweed, I threw it away before Nate could embarrass me again.

[Act I, Scene II] 

Ms. Taylor is writing something on the board. I don’t know what it says—I’m distracted. 

I sit next to a group of three boys. She pulled me aside before recess one day and told me that she sat me there on purpose, hoping that my good behavior would rub off on them. 

Good behavior is the last thing on my mind right now. Instead, all I can see are the three boys completely surrounding me, pulling their eyes back at me

Look at us, we’re Vivian! They whisper to the people around us. 

They laugh. 

I try not to cry. 

I don’t look like that! I say, except unlike them, I scream it. Everyone in the room turns to look at me. 

Ms. Taylor tells me to sit in the quiet corner. Later, she tells me she expects better of me, and that I shouldn’t yell during class. I nodded and apologized for my behavior. 

The boys came up to me later and told me they were just having fun. 

I smile and tell them that it’s no big deal.

[Act I, Scene III] 

Willam Hunt just told everyone that Eliza Chiu and I eat dogs because we’re Chinese. I tell them that I’m Taiwanese, not Chinese. I’m off the hook. 

Eliza turns to look at me—a plea. 

I pretend that I’m above Eliza. I should’ve helped her instead. 

[Act I, Scene IV] 

I first heard it in Ms. Roulette’s fourth-grade math class. 

You’re Asian! How come you got that question wrong? 

I don’t understand. What does being Asian have to do with it? Ms. Roulette still drew a smiley face on my paper and said I did a good job. Was she just lying to me, just so that I could save face? 

The next time we get a test back, I shove it into my folder as soon as I get it. Alicia asks me what I got. “A full score, duh.” 

I didn’t. I got two wrong. 

[Act I, Scene V] 

Today, Victor accidentally got my paper instead of his own. 

He waves it around, showing the entire class that I got a P for progressing, instead of an M for mastery. 

My face turns a violent red. I’m ashamed. I got a P for the first time ever, and now the entire class just has to know about it. 

In my fit of anger, I tell the teacher almost immediately, and she reprimands him.

Victor and his friends turn away and whisper to each other, pointing their fingers at me every time they see me, for an entire week. 

Maybe the nice, quiet, and likable Vivian needs to make a return, and the academic, borderline-nerd Vivian needs to take a step back. 

[Act II, Prologue] 

Nice, quiet, and likable Vivian did indeed make a return. And the rewards I reaped from it were inconceivable. 

Addison Campbell was probably the most loved and hated girl in the entire school. She was white, blonde, and popular. Think Regina George from Mean Girls, but at 10 years old. Everyone either hated her…or wanted to be her. 

I wanted to be her. But I was too Asian and nowhere near blonde enough. 

So, I became Cady Heron instead. 

Addison’s best friend, Dakota, liked Jason Tracz, the most popular guy in school, just like everyone else. Including me. 

So, when Jason pulled Addison aside during recess one day and told her he liked her, and Dakota started crying and throwing a fit, I knew it was my time to shine. I comforted Addison, telling her that Dakota would’ve been happy for her if she was a true friend. Dakota was forgotten. 

Suddenly, I was in. Addison’s clique welcomed me with open arms. They taught me how to be cool. How to be pretty. How to attract boys. How to be popular. I even had my first boyfriend. No longer was I rejected for being a nerd, or for having thin but bushy eyebrows and weird eyes

But, life is never fair, and God forbid good things last forever. Sixth grade approached, and while Addison and her friends were headed to public middle school, I was not. Instead, I was sent to a science and design-based public charter school.

Somewhere along the way, nice, quiet, and likable Vivian turned into a popular Vivian. But that didn’t matter. Nerdy Vivian was back in. 

[Act II, Scene I] 

You’re whitewashed. 

I can’t believe my eyes, because there is no way she just sent that text. Emma, my classmate, neighbor, closest confidant, and above all, best friend forever—just called me whitewashed. 

How could she? All of my efforts, in crafting an academically superior version of myself—for what? 

At my new school, intelligence was praised. Expected, even. There were no more popularity contests. No more white blonde girls, just Asian girls like me, who calculated their worth over a number. 

The A+ range. Don’t dare to fall too behind. 

Academic Vivian was at her peak. Not a single class with a number worth less than an A+. So what did Emma mean by whitewashed? Popular Vivian should be away, in hiding. 

No, Emma is wrong. I’m smart. Academically driven. More Asian than anything. My report card can attest to that. 

[Act II, Scene II] 

I can’t breathe. 

I feel like I’m going to die. I want to die.

I’m so tired. 

Tired of hearing the horse hair of my bow strum against the metal strings of my violin, an attempt to produce a melody that my teacher will accept. She does not. She yells at me. It’s funny that I can sense this much disappointment through an iPad screen. Funny how she’s miles away, but her words hit me as if she’s right here with me. This happens weekly. 

Perhaps this is where my act starts to crumble. 

You would think that being at home for every minute of every day means I would actually get up and practice. I do not. And these are the consequences. 

I don’t study for my tests anymore. Why bother? The internet is at my disposal. I’m too smart to get caught, especially when my class takes place on a screen, but why would they ever suspect me, a model student, in the first place? 

That’s how the importance of academic validation slowly starts to waver in my heart. 

I don’t exercise anymore. There’s no point, not when I’m not even allowed to go outside, because I can’t risk breathing in contaminated air. I do, however, eat. Ask for more rice during every meal. Devour mooncakes whole. Stuff the dumplings in my mouth during Lunar New Year. Snack on chocolate in my free time. Eat to my heart’s content. Eat the struggles away. 

Mom says I’ve gotten fat. I don’t believe her. 

So here I am. Trapped, tired, unmotivated, unaccomplished, and fat. 

I don’t want to act anymore. 


[Act II, Scene III] 

I can breathe.

Wow, that’s a lot. Almost too much, even. 

So, I’m still here. Clearly. But I meant what I said. No more acting. 

[Act III, Prologue] 

Chill out. We were just joking. 

Yeah, what’s up with you? You’re so different lately. 

She’s so mean. 

I don’t regret what I said. I’m done with the pretending. (That’s a total lie. I do regret it, just a little.) 

But never have I felt so free. Likable is overrated. Likable meant staying silent when I was wronged. Saying yes to everything that was asked of me. Never, ever, saying no. 

I also have a 95 in science right now. Below an A+. But I’m fine with that. I still have a good grade. I’m still as smart as I was when I had a 99. I don’t owe it to anyone to pretend that I still do. 

I am absolutely done being an actress. 

[Act III, Scene I] 

You’re so cute! 

Vivian, you’re so pretty. 

Seriously, what do you use for your skin? You’re glowing. 

Looks like Popular Vivian is back. But…I’m not pretending. At all. I swear. I’m not a pushover. If anyone chooses to cross the line, then I make sure that they regret it. 

I’ve earned enemies. But I’ve earned way more friends. 

Was this the secret after all?

[Act III, Scene II] 

Vivian, what did you get? 

The AP World History midterm grades are out. And…I got a 94. The highest score in the class. Definitely not something to be ashamed of. So I respond. 

And I am swarmed. Everyone wants to know how I did it. How I managed an A. Everyone wants my number too. Inviting me to group chats. To study dates. 

I could get used to this. 


I was an actress. But I never should have been in the first place. I still wish I was never forced to be one. Popular Vivian and Nerdy Vivian didn’t have to exist. I could have always just been Vivian. 

As I pushed each one away, hiding them in the deepest, darkest parts of me, everything only got worse. It was like I was creating my own demise. 

After 14 years, I finally let them coexist. And now? 

Now I’m happy. As Vivian, as Yu-Wei—it doesn’t make a difference. I’m just me. …..And scene.

About Jamie: Jamie Su is a freshman in high school and enjoys playing the violin, drawing, and figure skating when she isn’t writing. She is the concertmaster of her local orchestra. She also competes on her high school figure skating team who recently became state champions, and will also be competing at the National Theatre on Ice competition this summer. You can find her @jievyu on Instagram.

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