Asher Brown’s Suicide Hits Home

By Guest Contributor Jen Wang, cross-posted from DISGRASIAN

13 year-old Asher Brown was an 8th grader at Hamilton Middle School in Cypress, TX who killed himself last Thursday because, according to his parents, he was bullied at school. The Houston Chronicle reports that Asher was bullied for being small and for not wearing designer clothes; MSNBC reports that he was also singled out for being Buddhist and having a lisp. Most of all, his stepfather David Truong and mother Amy Truong believe, Asher Brown was bullied for being gay.

The Truongs now say that they had complained to Hamilton Middle School officials repeatedly over the last 18 months about the harassment Asher experienced, but their phone calls went unanswered and their visits to the school failed to stop the bullying. The school district of which Hamilton is a part, Cy-Fair I.S.D., is denying that they ever received complaints from the Truongs, other students, or school employees.

This story hits home for me because that’s exactly where it takes place. I grew up in Cypress, TX. I graduated from the Cy-Fair school district, attending both middle and high school there. The house that I grew up in is 2.5 miles away from Hamilton Middle School, which is listed on its website as a “2010 Texas Exemplary School.” I actually would have gone to Hamilton had it existed when I was that age.

It’s been many, many years since I’ve lived in Cypress, and it has changed considerably from the small town on the outskirts of northwest Houston that it once was. The woods I used to play in behind my subdivision and the ones surrounding so many homes in the area are mostly gone, built-up with more subdivisions, box stores, gas stations, grocery stores, mini-malls, and malls.

The demographics have changed, too. Of the 1620 students enrolled at Hamilton Middle School this year, 7.3% are Asian. I’d have to dig up my old yearbooks to figure out what the percentage was back when I was in middle school, but I’m guessing it was less than half that number. I wasn’t the only Asian kid in school, but it sometimes felt that way. Back then, I was teased and bullied for being different; I was called “chink,” “gook,” “jap,” “snake eyes”; the very first high school football game I ever went to, an older kid ching-chonged me in front of hundreds of other spectators; people screamed from their cars at me and my family to “Go back to where you came from”; even my so-called “friends” told me one year at church camp that I could never date outside my race because the Bible said it was wrong. Still I feel like I had it easier than others because I was a girl–only once did someone threaten to kick my ass out by the school buses. Twice, if you count the time I voted for the Democratic candidate in a 7th grade mock election and wound up being the only one in a class of over thirty kids to do so, which got all the boys in my class spoiling for a fight, but that ballot was secret, so no one ever knew that the ass they had wanted to kick was mine.

I don’t have good memories of growing up in Cypress, even though it will forever remain in my mind as “home.” For those years when I was trying to be a fiction writer, almost all of my stories were set there. Looking back, most of those stories were really the same one told over and over. They were all concerned with misfits who couldn’t escape the intolerance of their small, conservative, close-minded Christian town. One reason I couldn’t hack it as a fiction writer was because I was frozen in this one place every time I tried to write. I couldn’t seem to write about any other. I even started to question if this place really existed, and if it was as bad as I remembered, whether it had calcified into something more terrible as time went by.

After hearing about Asher Brown’s suicide, and the story of another kid in the Cy-Fair school district who was bullied last year for being gay while school officials stood by and did nothing, I’m beginning to think I got it right the first time around, that my memory of where I grew up as someplace awful is, sadly, anything but a fiction.