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Becoming a Superhero
By David Tung-Ming Tse, Age 14, Orinda
First Place Essay, Grades 6-8
Essay on Growing Up Asian in America

When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was save the world. I wasn't a greedy child, and though I aspired to have all the powers of my idol, Superman, I would have been content with any power. I'd have take flight, super-strength, anything (even super-hearing)! I wanted to be strong, I wanted to be swift, but more than anything, I wanted to be a superhero.

I was six then, and, soon after telling this to my Chinese parents, I was abruptly put back into reality. Upon hearing the impossibility of my dream, I was forlorn for days. After much sulking, I finally resolved that, despite what anyone thought, I would fulfill my dream, and become a superhero.

Years passed and slowly, I grew up. Under the increasing pressure of school, and time-consuming extra curricular activities, my dream faded. Yet it was always in the back of my mind, and I never forgot it. One day, as I was studying in the library, I saw a classmate, enthralled in a sight familiar to me: a comic book. This was not however, the type that I was accustomed to, for there were no exceptionally muscled protagonists, or explosive, gory battles. There were just two people, sitting playing a board game. I was shocked. What was this kid reading, a comic book with no shooting, no fighting? Could it really be two people sitting around playing games? I went up to him and asked politely:

“Excuse me, but may I ask what you're reading?”

He looked at me shocked, “You don't know what this is?”

“Umm… Not really. Why, should I?”

“Oh,” he said chuckling, “I thought all Asians read Manga. Here, I have to go. Return it to the librarian once you're finished. It's checked out.”

With those words, he placed the book into my eager hands and left. I sat down and was soon immersed in a world of cunning, skill, and tactics. Unfortunately, in my trance, I didn't study that day, instead, I read. The story was incredible, instead of brute strength, the protagonist used his wits. He did not simply jump into a vat of radioactive acid, but instead, he gained prestige and skill through effort. Though he was not a billionaire vigilante or an alien from outer space, in my eyes, this guy was a superhero. He was not born great, he attained it. When I finally finished, I sat in stunned silence. I had finally discovered a way to fulfill my dream. I could not help noticing, even with this thought, the blatant difference between the superheroes in Manga and those in American comics.

Having been raised Asian, education, intelligence, and virtue were emphasized greatly. In my household, I suffered lectures on these principles often. It was not uncommon to hide a B+ in fear of disappointing my parents. I did this however, not because of the ideals that I was raised with but because I was scared of being grounded. My lack of understanding for the punishments made me think my parents were too strict. Now however, for the first time, I saw why I was pushed so much. I realized that, as my parents had so often told me, it was only through hard work that one could become successful. Only through legitimately earned success can one become a superhero. It matters not that one can't lift 100 tons or run faster than the speed of sound. The real superheroes were those that made do with what they had, and, through considerable effort, gained enough to change their ordinary lives. They were those that tried, over and over again, with determination and focus.

I thought back to Superman, Batman, and all the others I used to idolize. They were certainly superheroes. But more than anything, they were the American portrayal of superheroes. They were constructed on the American values of courage, strength, and power. I had to decide which mattered more, strength and power, or intelligence and diligence. I have lived in America all my life, and I love this country. However, despite fourteen years of integration into becoming American, I still consider myself to be mainly Asian. I am proud of my heritage and I am proud of my upbringing. White I still believe the American values are important, having been constantly reminded of the stern Asian beliefs, I place more worth into continuous effort. Therefore, if I can't fly and become a superhero the American way, I'll do it the Asian way. I'll work hard and I'll study until one day, I become that Superman. I might not be able to save the world on my own, but at least I can make an attempt to help.

In the end, it was not my definition of a superhero that changed, it was me. And that, that change of self, is, in my opinion, just as great and difficult as an Asian integrating into American culture.

Growing Up Asian in America is a program of the Asian Pacific Fund, a foundation established to improve the well-being of all Asians in the Bay Area. The largest program in the nation celebrating Asian heritage, Growing Up Asian in America provides a unique forum for youth to explore their ideas on being Asian and American through art and writing. Students in grades kindergarten through 12 compete every year for $27,000 in savings bond awards, and the winning entries are displayed in public libraries throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more about this program, visit the Asian Pacific Fund web site,, or call (415) 433-6859.
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