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Blind Beauty
By S.L., Age 10, Palo Alto
Second Place Essay, Grades K-5
Essay on Growing Up Asian in America

Hands clammy, knees shaking from age, and forehead perspiring, the elderly Chinese artist sits pensively at his easel. His hands skim over the paper in front of him as his mind's eye draws out a vivid illustration of a sleek cat, its serene composure level a match to the artist's mood. Slowly the man lifts the ink pot and sprinkles some ink on to the paper. Then he picks up the thin brush and flicks his wrist quickly, dashing the ink all over the whiteness in gentle swoops. With a few more deft strokes, the man transforms the plain white paper into a snowy feline, its fur long and lustrous. Although the artwork still needs a background, the kitten itself is a stunning masterpiece, drawn with emotion. But what is even more amazing is that the artist is almost blind.

This man, Chang, is my great uncle and, to me, he is a superhero. He was known throughout Asia as one of the most magnificent artists in Chinese history. Never focusing exclusively on meticulous brushstroke techniques, Chang earned admiration because of all the thoughts and moods he somehow expressed in his paintings. Although old age eventually clouded his sight, he continued to labor with great diligence, and it is this kind of tenacity that makes him heroic. His efforts shone deeply through his remarkable animals, graceful plants, and impressive precipices. He showed fierce integrity, for when his old eyes sensed that a shape had gone awry, he would start again. His paintings are so beautiful that they compel even ten-year-old Chinese Americans like me to look at the world from a more peaceful, bold, or logical perspective. Because of my great uncle’s work, I'm inspired to experience these different viewpoints. This quality of making me open myself to special points of view can only come from a hero like Chang, whose passion created beauty.

In addition to Chang's admirable persistence, he also had a deep heart of gold. He cared about his community, especially about animals. Through stories from my relatives, I have realized how wonderfully thoughtful Chang must have been to his society. One story from my grandma appeals more to me than most others, for it illustrates that true heroes are extremely selfless. During World War II, Chang and his helpers escaped from Chinese communism. When asked what he was going to bring along, Chang ignored his sparkly jewels and gold. All he turned to were his painting supplies and two more objects. Fearing they might perish in the pernicious war, he insisted on bringing a young Pink-bottom monkey and a baby white tiger from the wilderness of Szechuan Province, both of which would later be pictured in many of his paintings. This tremendous care for other people and animals exemplifies true heroism.

Chang is a superhero, perhaps the greatest sort. I would create a hero similar to him, one who inspires us by striving to do more all the time, encouraging us to feel more deeply, and helping out in the community.

I can picture him once again at his easel, delicately working magic on the paper. He is beginning a grassy hillside underneath the sleek cat when abruptly his finger slips. The brush escapes from his grip and drops to the floor. The glory of the piece destroyed, Chang inhales sharply but calmly. After a few moments, he picks up the brush with his calloused hands and sets it on the easel. He tears out the ruined work and lays it down on the floor next to him. As he faces his easel once more, a new sheet awaits him.

Then picking up his paintbrush, Chang begins again.

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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