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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


Li-Jen Hew (author) on October 31, 2020:

Thanks Frank! I miss you! I hope to see you write again too.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on October 26, 2020:

I think this or the commentary you wrote or the introduction was important here.. I love the poem.. And the intro.. Bravo..

Li-Jen Hew (author) on October 26, 2020:

Hi Ashutosh, thank you for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it.

Li-Jen Hew (author) on October 26, 2020:

Thank you Rinita for the comment and for sharing the truth. I appreciate everyone's thoughtful comments!

Ashutosh Joshi from New Delhi, India on October 25, 2020:

That's most definately a banana flip. Loved it

Rinita Sen on October 25, 2020:

Superb poetry. You truly excelled yourself here. As to the theme, I'm sorry some people have to go through this. No one should be judged on how well they speak a language. Unfortunately, this sad truth persists in many regions of the world.

Li-Jen Hew (author) on October 25, 2020:

Hi Bill, I'm pleased that the title managed to draw you in! Thank you for your lovely comment.

Li-Jen Hew (author) on October 25, 2020:

Thanks for visiting my poem, Brenda and you are welcome here. That's a good reminder. Thanks again.

Li-Jen Hew (author) on October 25, 2020:

Hi Jodah, well now you know additional information about bananas. Haha. The context is in Malaysia but I was hesitant about whether to mention it. Thank you for your comment and advice. Will become the best banana as I can possibly be.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 25, 2020:

The title drew me in. The information was fascinating. The poem great fun. Thank you for my cultural lesson, my friend.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 24, 2020:

This is so cute! I do not know about the culture there, but alas I believe you have created the perfect poem to describe it.

Great work!

Accept yourself & others...none of us can be perfect.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 24, 2020:

Oh, Li-Jen, I never knew that Chinese who speak English and nor Mandarin were called bananas. I guess the best approach is to accept whatever label you are given and instead of being insulted, be proud of it. Make yourself the best "banana" you can possibly be. Anyway, I like bananas and they contain a chemical that makes you feel good. Nice poem.

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