"Dear Sir" by Christian Manaog
Second Place for College Prose
An open letter to the person who yelled at me on the subway
Before I address you, let me give you some brief context about my life before our encounter. My name is Christian Manaog. I am 19 years old, I’m from New York City (shout out to Queens), I attend Carnegie Mellon University, and I am Filipino. Growing up in the city, you learn certain lessons. I learned one such lesson when I was eight on the subway coming home from a concert. Exhausted, I was resting on my dad’s shoulder when some woman across the train started yelling at us. Well, maybe it wasn’t at us, because all I really remember was her yelling, and I was too tired to process what she was saying. What I do remember is locking eyes with her, and seeing an intense hatred that made me look away. When we got off the train, my Dad asked me whether I had heard anything the lady said. I said no, and he taught me something every parent in NYC tells their kids: “Whenever you meet people on the subway like that, don’t look at them. Ignore them, and they won’t bother you.”
So I hope you don’t take offense to the fact that I ignored you when you started talking. It didn’t look like you were talking to us, and frankly I didn’t notice you were talking to us until my friend messaged our group chat that “the person across from us is pissing me off.” That’s when I decided to listen to your babble.
“Go back to your country. What are you chinos doing in America?”
“I’m gonna sue you.”
“You people are so rude, you have no manners.”
“Oh my GOD, you need to learn English.”
And on. And on. And on.
I mean, I could talk about how I was born in America, or how I’m not Chinese, or how we were all speaking the language you told us to learn. But I listened to my Dad: I averted my eyes, I kept talking with my friends, and pretended you didn’t exist. I wanted nothing more than for you to go away.
Naturally, when I run into people like you, the train stalled right outside the station, so I enjoyed your presence for an extra few minutes. Though I was talking with my friends I couldn’t ignore your words anymore; every racial slur, every insult shook the very core of my soul. It was at this point I felt something I had never felt before. I was speaking, but I couldn’t hear the words coming out of my mouth. I was smiling, but I was furious on the inside. I wanted nothing more than to yell at you, to tell you to shut up, to tell you that you do not belong in the most diverse city in the world.
“You don’t even like America, go back to China.”
“Now you ignore the black guy because he’s black. So racist.”
At this point, I was praying that the train would move again so we could continue with our lives. I was hoping you’d get up and walk to another car. I guess I was really just praying for you to just leave.
And then you stood up, took two steps, and hit my friend.
It was so sudden; I actually didn’t believe it happened. It was so fast too: a light slap on the leg. My friend glared at you, and then turned back to us. No fight, I thought. He must’ve been taught the same lesson I had learned, and was desperately clinging to it. At this point, I was ready to fight. I don’t know anything about self-defense, but when it comes to my friends, I’m more than ready to fight for them. It was evening, so there weren’t many people on the train. A couple across from us looked at me and nodded, a silent acknowledgment that if things escalated, they would help us. I considered calling the police, but if it got to that, he would probably have gotten to us first. I promised myself if he hit my friend again, I would spring into action. I would be ready the next time.
Thankfully, the train started to move again though you continued your verbal assault. Since our train was right outside the station, it pulled in quickly and I stopped simulating how our brawl would play out. My friends and I were the first ones to hop out of the car. We went to get dinner, but none of us were hungry. I’m certain that adrenaline was still coursing through our veins, our survival instincts kicked into full drive. So good job, you ruined my train ride and my favorite meal of the day.
Looking back on this still makes me livid. I regret being unable to move. I regret not standing up for my friend when you hit him. I regret not telling anyone. These are things I’ll need to live with for the rest of my life. Prior to this, my life was contained in a bubble. I didn’t care when people complained about discrimination. Why would it matter to me? I’m American. I wouldn’t be discriminated against, especially in New York. But now I know those muffled and drowned out voices on the subway – those ‘crazy’ people – have always been screaming at me with words laced with venom and dripping with hate. This is reality.
My bubble has burst, and two hundred years of an ugly symphony of hate and racism are blaring all around me. As a Christian, I am called to love my enemies and forgive those who assault me. I’ll be honest, I’d be lying if I said I have forgiven you; this is probably something I’ll struggle with my entire life. However, I do not hate you. There is a lot of brokenness is America right now, and people are hurting on both sides. So I’ll be appreciative: thank you for opening my eyes. Thank you for giving me the resolve to stand for others who suffered through my experience over the course of their entire lives. Thank you for teaching me a lesson I never learned. I realize now that my parents’ lesson can no longer be the norm. If we want any hope for resolution, we must reconcile our differences, and sticking our heads in the ground will not help. So I hope you’re okay. Someone has hurt you, and I hope you’ve forgiven them and you aren’t yelling at random Asian kids on the 7 train anymore. There’s a lot more to life than that, and it’s too short to be wasting it on bringing more suffering into the world. So if I ever see you on the train again, let’s have a chat: a real one this time.