Asian American Contemporary Teens & Young Adult

“June Li wait!” She is shouting through the crowd. “JUNE LI!” 

“No,” I croak. I’m out of breath and desperate to get away. My leg is twisted at the knee, but I’m still trying to run. I knew jumping off the roof was going to hurt. But I had no other choice. Seriously. My luck has been so shitty lately! 

I push my hair out of my eyes to see where I’m going. 


The lights twinkling over the Zhu Jiang River, the Dragon Boat Festival is about to start. If I can make it there before they light the floating Dragon, maybe I can lose her. I mean, it’s not like I meant to burn down her stupid kitchen. 

She knew I was bad luck! 

But did she help me? 

I wouldn’t call what she did help. 

So whose fault is this really?

“There she is!” She screams. A whistle blows. I look over my shoulder just in time to see the Renmin Jingcha. An entire patrol unit in their crisp blue uniforms, just like police back home. Oh crap. Did she call the People’s Police? This is bad. Like a yellow jacket in the outhouse bad. That’s what my Dad would say if he was here. He always has a real Texan way of saying things. 

It’s not that much further.

But, my knee is throbbing!  

I’ve got to put ice on it and find my robotics team. They are going to kill me if I’m late! 

Maybe I should have listened to Carmen.

Or Peter. 



“June, are you sure this is a good idea? I get it, your Mom lived here as a kid so you think that gives you this big connection to the city. But, like, you grew up in Texas! Your dad is white!” Carmen pulls on my arm trying to stop me from leaving our hotel room.

“Yeah, girl, do you even speak Chinese?” Peter looks up from his phone. 

“Peter, we’ve gone over this. Chinese people speak Mandarin. Not Chinese. And I know enough.” Why are my friends so dumb? “I’ll be fine! I’ll meet up with you guys later at the competition. It doesn’t start until dusk anyway, right after they light the Dragon to start the Dragon Boat Festival. I just have this one thing I need to do in the city.” 

“Then I’m coming with you,” Carmen says, grabbing her backpack. 

“Wait, if you both go, how will we get Big Bertha there?” Peter whines.  

“I thought we weren’t going to call her Big Bertha anymore? It’s so trashy!” Carmen snaps.

“Trashy?” Peter gasps dramatically. “Carmen, you bitch. Awe… Don’t you listen to her Bertha honey,” Peter runs over to put his hands on Bertha’s ears. Or where ears would be, I suppose, if Bertha were an animal or a person, not a big round black robot.

“Stop coddling her!” Carmen rushes over to slap Peter away. 

I use their moment of stupidity to slip out the door. 

I have a mission and I’m not going to let Carmen or Peter stop me. 

Ha! Look at me now! 

Twisted leg. Being chased by the People’s Police and the threat of being locked in a Chinese jail for arson (that wasn’t even my fault)! My day couldn’t possibly get any worse. Except-- my phone is going mad in my pocket. I manage to dig it out while I’m limping along. It’s 7:15 p.m. Big Bertha is supposed to go on stage in fifteen minutes! Oh my god! If I don’t get there soon, I’ll never live this down. This moment is huge for us. Probably the biggest moment of all of our lives and I just screwed it up. 

“JUNE LI!!” 


I’ve got to ditch these cops and my Aunt Suyin. I hear her scream my name again over the crowd. “JUNE LI! You in biiiiiig trouble!” Yeah, okay, it was her kitchen I sort of set on fire. 

Seriously, stop judging me. 

It was an accident! 

I mean, come on. Obviously I went to her house to get help. Not to burn it down. 


“How you find me June Smith?” 

Aunt Suyin is at her front door staring at me. 

“Nǐ hǎo āyí Suyin Li.” I bow. “My name isn’t June Smith. It’s June Li Smith, I’m still family.” I say, emphasizing the Li, with a big ‘ol American grin on my face. Then I hold out a present I bought for her at the Dallas airport gift shop.  

“What’s this?” She asks.

“A genuine Everything is Bigger in Texas apron. Mom always says you’re a hot mess, so I assumed--” 

“You have terrible accent,” she says before shutting the door in my face. 


“GO away June Li. You not welcome. You have bad luck just like Dongmei,” she yells through the slats of the door. 

“Mom goes by an American name, Doris,” I shout back. 

Wrong answer. 

She swings the door wide open. 

“Doris? Dongmei is stupid girl. Unlucky. You unlucky just like her June Li.” Her face is pursed up like she’s going to spit on me. And maybe she will. Mom says Aunt Suyin is feisty.

“Wait!” I put my hands up to shield my face from any incoming spray. “Mom told me you did something to make her bad luck go away. I’m not really sure what. She’s sort of vague about it. Anyway, I’m trying to get into college and I need all the luck I can get Aunt Suyin. See, I’m taking this thing called the SAT’s next week, and I-- uh, I’m smart, like really smart, I build robots that could rival NASA, but I am terrible at tests. I have the worst luck. Please, I need your help! Just tell me what you did for Mom and I’ll leave,” I slowly put my hands down and take a deep breath. 

It’s a long shot. 

But what do I have to lose? 

All I need is the thing--

Maybe it’s a charm?

Or a special tea? 

All I know is that Mom said when she was a kid, she had horrible, terrible, bad luck. The kind that made people cross the street when she came walking. Dogs barked at her. Babies cried around her. 

But now-- Mom is like this perfect American dream. 

Her and Dad are totally in love. 

She has hundreds of friends. 

And everyone says how beautiful and lucky she is! 

But she used to be just like me. It’s always broken mirrors and black cats. I’m never going to get into college with the scores I keep getting. I just need whatever Chinese magic Aunt Suyin did for my Mom and then I’ll be out of her hair. 


“You so pathetic June Li. Get inside before I change my mind,” Aunt Suyin opens the door. 

“Thank you!” I hug my old crabby Aunt. 

“Don’t touch me! Take off shoes,” Aunt Suyin barks.

I smile and obey.

After ushering me through her very clean, not messy-at-all, house and setting me down at a table with a cup of hot tea, Aunt Suyin seems to settle down and accepts my presence. Yes, she’s muttering something so fast that I can’t understand, a prayer maybe? Something to ward off a curse? As long as it will help me on my SAT’s I don’t care. 

“So, do you live here alone?” I sip the tea, trying to breathe in the steam, in case it’s the thing to cure my bad luck. 

“Dongmei really say she lucky now?” Aunt Suyin looks suspicious. 


“You lie. Why you really here?” She looks at me with one eye. 

I squint and look back at her with one eye. 

I was raised by a Chinese woman. I know these games. 

Aunt Suyin finally breaks and lets her face relax. 

“I’m here with my robotics team. We won the Nationals with Big Bertha. She’s our Robot,” I clarify after she looks confused. “We were invited to participate in the World Robotics Tournament which is being held at the Dragon Boat Festival tonight. It’s a huuuuuge honor-- It’s being live streamed on YouTube and--,” and then I just blab on and on and on about my life. 

About my parents.

My friends.

My school. 

Literally everything. And you know what? Aunt Suyin, a seriously cranky old Chinese woman, actually listens! And she laughs and she smiles and she seems to be enjoying herself. 

“Aunt Suyin, can you tell me now, what did you do for my Mom? I have to know.” I can’t wait any longer. I check my phone. It’s getting late. 

Carmen and Peter will be waiting for me. 

Aunt Suyin gets up and walks to the kitchen and signals me to follow her. 

This is it! 

She’s going to give me the secret!

But, when we enter the kitchen, I know something is very wrong. Her face is back to the scowl she had when I first arrived. And there’s something else. 

A man. A very large man. Right in the middle of the kitchen. 

“Uh, I’m sorry, I… I should go. Thank you for letting me spend some time with you,” I bow quickly and turn to go. But, Aunt Suyin is fast! She puts her hand on my shoulder and spins me around. 

“June Li, don’t be rude. This is my son, Qianlong Li. He your cousin. Here to help me-- We going to remove your bad luck. You say you want to be like Dongmei. Let me show you what we do,” her voice is sharp and sounds angry at me. Aunt Suyin is totally creeping me out! 

“No, I’m okay, thanks anyway!” I smile and nod. My heart is pumping so hard in my chest, I’m pretty sure it’s going to burst out and land on the floor. What are they planning on doing to me? There’s pots bubbling over, bottles and baskets all over. There are weird looking plants hanging everywhere. And oh, my god-- a row of dead chickens hanging. 

Deep breath. 

I’ve heard Mom’s stories. 

I get it. This is an authentic Chinese kitchen. 

Don’t freak out. 

“Qianlong hold her. I do Zhēn cì and fix you,” Aunt Suyin holds up a handful of needles. Oh no, no, no… um, what the hell is Zhēn cì? I’m wracking my brain. Has Mom ever said anything about needles before? Not that I can remember. Breathe. 

“Nope. I’m good. No, no needles will be necessary. I’m just going to go. Thank you,” I slowly back up. But, then I don’t know what happens! Qianlong reaches for me and there’s just so much stuff hanging all over and I freak out! “AGH!!” I scream and fling my arms around and knock a bunch the baskets down. They temporarily block me from my cousin. He grunts and lunges at me. 

“June Li! Hold still!” Aunt Suyin screams at me.

“NO,” I charge forward and all hell breaks loose. It’s like bad-luck-girl freaking out meets crazy Chinese relatives and the place erupts in total chaos. We are all screaming and stuff is flying around and I guess I knock over something that is flammable and then the stove is on fire. 

“Fire, fire, FIRE!” I wave and point and Aunt Suyin is screaming at Qianlong and he shouts something nasty at me. Now that’s a Mandarin phrase I know and won’t repeat. I grab the first bottle with liquid I see and throw at the fire. That was the wrong thing to do. I’m such an idiot. 

The flames burst into a wild inferno. 

“OUT!” Aunt Suyin pushes me out of the room and towards the front door of the house. 

“But, but, wait! The fire, we have to put it out, I’m so sorry Aunt Suyin!” I don’t know what to do or say. Then I hear a sound I’ve heard plenty of times before in our robotics shop. The sound of a fire extinguisher. 

Qianlong. He’s putting out the blaze.

“You BAAAAD LUCK June Li! You set my house on fire!” Aunt Suyin is screaming at me.

“I’ve got to go Aunt Suyin, I’m late! I’m sorry! I thought you were going to kill me,” I yell over my shoulder and jump off the porch and out into the street. 

“Kill you? Stupid, stupid girl! Zhēn cì is ac-you-punch-her-- it's what I do for Dongmei.” Aunt Suyin is running behind me and yelling. 


Ohhhhh… Acupuncture. Traditional Chinese medicine using thin needles to treat pressure points and cure illnesses. That’s what she was going to do. She was going to use acupuncture to cure my bad luck! Palm to face moment. 

But now, I can’t stop. 

I have to go! It’s getting dark. 

Carmen and Peter are probably freaking out! 

There is a fence in front of me, but I know the Dragon Boat Festival is that general direction. If I can get up and over the fence and make it to the festival, I’ll come back tomorrow and pay Aunt Suyin for the damages. I mean, I’m not a complete asshole! 

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” I shout. 


God she’s relentless! 

I get over the fence and on the other side a crowd has started forming. They are heading to the Dragon Boat Festival from the looks of it. Everyone is laughing and talking and stopping at food carts. There are children running and screaming and everyone is dancing in the streets. It’s one big festival everywhere! I’m so confused now. I don’t know if this road is heading towards Zhu Jiang River. 

“I can’t see.” I exclaim. I jump up to try and see over the crowd. I’m so frustrated. I can’t see anything. Maybe if I was up higher, like up on the roof of a building, I could see where the river is and the stage for our robotics competition. 

“Bāng wǒ pá shàngqù,” I say to the first guy I see. 

“What? Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese,” he says and smiles. A drunk teenage tourist. 

“You mean Mandarin. I need to get up on the roof of this building, can you boost me up?” I say with an attitude. I mean seriously, look at him. He’s at least half-Chinese. What’s wrong with my generation? 

“Cool. American Chinese girl,” he slurs. “I’m an American Chinese boy.” 

I roll my eyes. “Just boost me please, I’m in a hurry to get to the Dragon Boat Festival. My robotics team is competing and I’m lost. I need to see where to go,” I say, not that I need to explain to him. 


Oh shit. Aunt Suyin is back. 

“Whoa, robotics? That is so rad. I’m here with my parents. They don’t know I’m out drinking, don’t tell them okay?” He says and puts his hands out for me to climb up. I put my foot in his hands and he gives me the boost I need to reach up and pull myself up to the top of the roof. 

“Thank you!” I shout and wave. 

“No-- thank you, robot girl!” He shouts back and waves. 


I climb further up on the roof and over to the next building. There! I can see the flags and boats and the huge Dragon they are going to light up to signal the start of the Dragon Boat Festival. Carmen and Peter and Big Bertha have got to be there by now. 

Okay-- time to jump. 

Ha! Look at me now! 

Twisted leg. Being chased by the People’s Police. The threat of being locked in a Chinese jail for arson (that wasn’t even my fault)! It’s 7:15 p.m. Big Bertha is going on stage in fifteen minutes! If I don’t get there soon, I’ll never live this down. 

“JUNE LI! You in biiiiiig trouble!” 

So I do the only thing I can do. 

Because my Mom and Dad made me promise one thing before we left on our trip. “June Li Smith, make us proud.” And running away from my Aunt Suyin after burning her kitchen down would not make my parents proud. So I turn around. I put my hands up in the air like they do in the movies and lace them behind my head. 

“I give up. I’m sorry Aunt Suyin! It was an accident. I’m bad luck,” I shout and get down on my knees. I watch as my Aunt gets closer. But then I close my eyes. I don’t want to watch the People’s Police butt-stroke me in the head with their guns. I’m shaking. I can’t believe it came to this. I don’t deserve to score high on my SAT’s. And I sure as hell don’t deserve to participate with my robotics team tonight. 

“Get up!” Aunt Suyin is pulling on me. “Why you on your knees? Why you run so fast from me? You stupid girl?” 

I open my eyes. The Renmin Jingcha is running past us, blowing whistles and shouting at someone. “But-- I thought-- the Police?” I stammer. 

“You forget shoes. You feet gonna be in biiiiiig trouble running barefoot. Here--” Aunt Suyin shoves my shoes at me, then pokes me in the temple with a needle before I can scream or jerk away. “Now you fixed. Like I fix Dongmei. Go. Win contest stupid girl. Don’t come back.” 

“You’re such a liar June Li!” Carmen shakes her head. 

“Oh my god, look, there is a needle mark,” Peter is examining my temple. 

“Come on! We are up,” I point to the stage. The sign is flashing our robot's name and the crowd is screaming wildly.

“Big Bertha!” 

“I hate you Peter,” Carmen shoves him. He laughs and eats it up. Pumping his fist and runs on stage. I don’t know if my luck is going to change when I get home. But for now, it’s time to kick some robot ass. 

June 13, 2021 14:22

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