By Mei-Mei Arms, VI Form
自来 – From the Beginning
6,156 days ago, I was in an orphanage in China. 6,155 days ago, I met a family of three looking for number four. I didn’t know their language, nor they mine, and when they called me Mackenzie, I am told that I responded with looks of uninterested confusion. My older brother, Richard, who was six at the time, attempted Mandarin and called me his mèimei (little sister), I responded to the word, and with that, I got my name. The name’s meaning, to me, is fated, not to sound superstitious, but everyone in my family is the oldest. My mom’s the oldest of seven, my dad’s the oldest of three, my brother’s the oldest of two, and even our dog’s the oldest of nine. At first, my parents didn’t see it that way, they thought they’d call me Mei-Mei for a bit then switch to my legal name, Mackenzie, but here we are 6,155 days later, and it’s safe to say it’s not switching.
In elementary school, I loved being Mei-Mei, I thought it was cool to have a unique nickname, and in time, I grew to dislike ‘Mackenzie.’ I always dreaded roll calls when new teachers and substitutes said Mackenzie, resulting in either my saying ‘I go by Mei-Mei’ or another student annoyingly saying it for me. I was embarrassed that I had a “real name.” For years, I couldn’t wait to turn eighteen for the sole reason that being eighteen gave me the power to get rid of ‘Mackenzie’ because I’ve always thought it important that if you have the power to change something you don’t like, take action. However, I grew to understand that erasing Mackenzie wouldn’t solve my problems.
Growing up, Mackenzie came to represent a bulk of my insecurities. I never forced myself to fit in, and to me, trying to be Mackenzie felt like trying to be something I’m not. However, it was Mackenzie who taught me how to accept my flaws as a part of who I am. The challenge of many adolescents is fitting in and being a different race than 95% of my peers made it difficult ever to see myself fitting in. Being Mei-Mei allowed me to take control of my narrative because it made me feel obligated to project someone who lived up to her “weird name” and not be afraid to stand out. When people read or hear Mei-Mei, they automatically know to expect someone who is “different” or “interesting” and I love that about my name. The older I get, the more I’ve noticed the people in the world who see Mei-Mei and don’t just expect someone “different” or “interesting” but create an entire person in their head based on Asian stereotypes. I would have never anticipated this to be my future when I was a kid, but bias and stereotypes are a reality that I face and the collective lessons taught to me by both Mei-Mei and Mackenzie have prepared me for the road ahead.
While Mackenzie has been a big part of shaping the person I am today and will always be a part of who I am, Mackenzie is just a small piece of me. Now let me tell you about Mei-Mei. I am a seventeen-year-old girl who refuses to go to school more than an hour away from her dog, believes in the importance of being known deeply rather than widely, loves to cook and bake, especially for birthday celebrations, is on a journey to find herself, and needs a little guidance to find the destination. That is the bare bones of who I am, and cliche as that may seem, I don’t think 650 words or less can do anybody justice. But like a good book, I hope after reading my jacket you’re interested in learning more and willing to spend some time, maybe even four years, on me.