By: Chinaly Chanvong
Hi. My name is Ching – and since it ends in g and not k, it’s not racist.
When I started seventh grade, my mom began chemotherapy. As the life began to drain from her, my home deteriorated into just a house. My parents didn’t sleep in the same bed, my mom was too weak to go out, my dad became a depressed workaholic, and my brother was too young to understand. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and I desperately needed a way to channel my sadness and anger elsewhere.
I began playing varsity soccer at school. It was the outlet for my emotions, but became my Achilles heel. Thereby, when Ching started to float around the soccer field during games, it was okay because I was being recognized and accepted. Ching drifted away from the field into schools and into me, filling the empty voids I had. The recognition and attention I garnered in hallways because the Asian girl was being called Ching, laughing with instead of being laughing at. And with that I gave the green light to be branded a non-racial slur because it was Ching not Chink.
For three years, I was perfectly content with being Ching. People knew who the nickname belonged to; people knew me, but I didn’t know myself. I didn’t know the significance of my name. It wasn’t till my mother could start going out again that she found out my new name. I’ve never seen her so alive in those past two years than when she heard someone call me Ching at Homecoming.
My mother was livid, asking why racism exists today and when I tried to explain that Ching was only a nickname – she didn’t get why I would be happy being called that.
I couldn’t look her in the eye and tell her the reason was it was the only way for me to be noticed.
She took my silence as ignorance and that weekend took me to Lao American New Generation Sunday school, where first generation Laotians learned about their culture. It was an immense culture change. For the first time I was meeting people of the same nationality that weren’t my cousins; people who took pride in being Laotian. I was a part of the majority and for the first time I felt a surging sense of pride. Being a part of L.A.N.G made me realize how I lost my name and how I lost myself.
A mouthful… that’s how everything began. My name, Chinaly, seemed to be too strange, too Asian that no one gave it a breath of their time. Ching echoed off almost all the walls of my school because people assumed it was not racist, but it was. Ching was the wall I allowed to be placed between who I wanted to be perceived as and my culture. And the farther I got lost in the attention, the more I lost myself.
It took me three years to realize I didn’t want to be, “that Asian girl… Ching.”
It was a mold that was plastered on me, restricting what others saw of me, and I wanted to break free and find myself. I found myself in activism. I started a non-profit that not only registered hundreds of young people to vote, but it created a platform for the ones who have fallen to gun violence in my community. Over the past year I have spent countless hours combating the social injustices associated with gun violence not only in Springfield but in the Commonwealth as well, which is why I am humbled to also say I will be receiving the Peace MVP Award through the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence this Spring. I won’t ever stop raising my voice because the duty of the youth is to combat corruption and that is what i wholeheartedly plan to do.
My voice, my opinions, my passion emanated from me with every rally I formed, every mile I marched, every walkout I planned, every speech I spoke, and with every step I found myself and it was all because I realized what my name holds. My name is more than just seven letters, it carries my reputation, illustrates who I am. It is the sole item that I carry with me throughout my life. Without my name, finding who I am, learning my culture I wouldn’t have found my voice and passion for activism. Because you must find yourself before you can change the world.
Hi. My name is Chinaly.