At age seven, I struggled to learn a new language and overcome racial discrimination in my new country. Since then, I've enjoyed motivational "fish out of water" stories, particularly about children. I was profoundly moved by the novel Dragonwings by Laurence Yep, which captured my painful childhood isolation. Dragonwings tells the story of Moon Shadow, an eight-year-old Chinese boy who comes to America to live with his father. Delighted to move to the "land of gold", Moon Shadow is stunned by the subsequent realities of racism and language barriers in 1906 Chinatown. Speaking only Mandarin Chinese, he endures terrible teasing as he tries to adapt to American culture. Yet Moon Shadow secretly shares his father's determination to control his destiny and ride the wind.
After moving from Malaysia to Greece, I suffered the same painful isolation as Moon Shadow. My classmates mocked my initial efforts to learn English, causing a persistent stuttering problem.
I eventually overcame my self-consciousness by joining the debate team. As I perfected my public speaking skills, I competed in international debating competitions and tutored English to poor children in my community.
Dragonwings eloquently describes how Moon Shadow adapted to his new culture and helped others become more tolerant of diversity. As the novel closes, he overcomes formidable obstacles to achieve his dreams. Years after initially reading the book, the story remains a powerful allegory for my own life. By learning a new language and becoming a seasoned debater, I also gained control of my destiny. Like Moon Shadow, I became free to ride the wind.