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Poem: Decoding Banana Language


This poem is my personal experience of growing up as a "banana". "Banana" is a term for Chinese who primarily speak English, not the Mandarin language. A banana is yellow, which describes skin colour. It does sound racist but is still used by Chinese who speak Mandarin to label those who are not fluent in Mandarin.

There is an expectation to speak Mandarin if you're Chinese but it also depends on the culture and the situation. Likewise, other names are being used for other races too, for not being fluent in a particular language. It might be a sensitive topic but I hope that bringing it up will make it a more comfortable topic instead of keeping it inside. I have to warn you though, before you read, you might not see bananas in the same way again!

In the poem, I share what happens when language barriers exist and the moment when I felt the need to "confess" as if it's a crime, that I don't speak and understand Mandarin, from the 3rd stanza. It may be shameful but I concluded the poem with the lesson that I should accept myself as being a "banana" as it is part of who I am and I'm human after all. We can't always live up to people's expectations. We can always take the initiative to learn a new language but do not let the incapability of speaking the language, determine your self-worth.

Decoding Banana Language

Labels stick on bananas,

Labels for brand and price,

Who would have thought bananas labelled humans?

For being yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

A Chinese who speaks English a.k.a. Banana,

Not the "sweetest" term of endearment,

But confirms the validity of being a fruit.

A silent fruit among Mandarin speakers.

I would pick "on" myself,

As if I'm from the market,

Confessing to them I'm just a banana,

Might be positively thought of as limited edition,

Or it might be, in their terms, not the "ripest" banana.

I would sometimes go bananas,

Blaming myself for being a banana,

But then I remember the banana split,

And I affirm myself,

I AM a human being who is capable of loving bananas!

© 2020 Li-Jen Hew

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