A piece written for Matador Network.
I ALMOST LOST A BRAID from my head once, while waiting in line at a department store in Jecheon, South Korea. An older woman behind me had reached across her shopping cart to hold one of my extensions in her hand, but she didn’t let go when I moved forward to put my toothpaste on the conveyor. “Chin-cha moor-ee?!” Real hair?! She asked, finally relinquishing the strand.
The others in line didn’t hide their curiosity either. A little boy pointed from the front seat of his cart, grasping a handful of his mother’s shirt in his fist. She looked too. They were all waiting for my answer.
When I was the new kid at Roy Cloud School in Redwood City, one of the first things the boys asked me was if I was a gang member back in San Francisco, because “we heard there are lots of gangs up there.” I was twelve. It was a simple 40-mile move to the San Mateo County suburbs, but questions like this made me feel like an immigrant — as if I had crossed oceans and came onshore an alien.
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