Asher Brown’s Suicide Hits Home

September 30th, 2010 | 16 comments | Posted by Jen

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.

[Houston Chronicle: Parents say bullies drove their son to take his life]
[MSNBC: Parents: Bullying May Have Led To Son's Suicide]

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16 Responses to “Asher Brown’s Suicide Hits Home”

  1. Cindy says:

    Blown away by you Jen, yet again.

  2. lygourd says:

    I’m a long-time lurker. Figured it was finally time to post a comment since I’m still haunted by this post 20 minutes after reading it.

    Thanks, Jen. Your understated tone just makes it all the more poignant.

  3. Tortoro says:

    Jen,

    Having grown up as one of the few Asians in a small, white, Christian, rural Ohio town, I feel for you and Asher Brown. I heard the same racial epithets you did and suffered the same disorienting (no pun intended) mind fuck that you did.

    But grow out of I did, and hopefully, you have too. Your mind, your heart and your life are so much bigger than Cypress, TX. All the best to you!

  4. Hello Kitty says:

    Aw man, Jen. Too much sadness in that corner of the world. *hands over virtual homemade brownie*

  5. thehomedeal says:

    Thank you for this blog. Thats all I can say. You most definitely have made this blog into something speciel. You clearly know what you are doing, youve covered so many bases.best regards

  6. yellOHpride says:

    This is so excrutiatingly sad. Especially since it seems like there has been an uncalled for and overwhelming increase in the amount of suicides with relation to bullying and more specifically, prejudice against sexual orientation. There was that other boy who jumped off the GW bridge who went to Rutgers after he was filmed making out with someone. And now this poor little child who got his entire life ripped away from him by immature little creeps whose parents don’t have enough intelligence and lack of ignorance to teach them equality, fairness, and unconditional love.

    I was a victim of bullying growing up as well – not just for being the only Asian in my neighborhood (and having white parents which made me even more “weird”) but also for having leg braces and canes. I can’t tell you how many times I got beat up on the school bus ride to school with the bus driver just looking in the rearview mirror and not trying to stop it. Or being beat up on the playground at lunch time by bigger kids and the teacher never reporting it to my parents. Unfortunately, this kind of stuff lays below the surface due to prejudice and preset stereotypes that are in the minds of those who we trust our children with. Makes me so pissed.

  7. buddhalicious956 says:

    Thank you for writing this entry. Society is in a truly depressing state that prejudice still happens. Heartfelt sympathy to Asher Brown, his family, you, and anyone else who has felt the pain of being bullied.

    Reading through your entry, I was reminded of a lot of those incidents from childhood. I can’t count the times that name-calling happened to me as a child. And I lived in New Jersey, just 30 minutes outside of New York City.

    Even a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, when everyone was supposedly “uniting” together and stopping differences, in college, my friends and I were victims of people telling us “Go back to where you came from.” Excuse me, but I was born in the Bronx. Where are you from?

    Even when I presented with the question of interracial relationships for one of my college classes, I was surprised with the amount of peers who were completely against it and their reasons. Like you said, they claimed the Bible said it was wrong or that it would make a child’s life more difficult if they were of mixed race.

    Granted, I went to smaller college in central Jersey, but I thought that people would be more open-minded about sexual orientation, race, and just differences in general. You would think that this type of injustices wouldn’t happen in this current date, but let alone around metropolitan areas or, heck, even in the northern part of the United States, but it does; which is truly despicable.

  8. dalianmoon says:

    Very moving, Jen. Bravo!

    Who looks out for these kids physical and emotional well being while they are at school? Those who can do something about it have been passive for too long. It was the same in Michigan when I was in middle school. No one is safe from it. A kid will be targeted for anything that’s considered a little “different”.

  9. BusyDad says:

    Oh my god. Reading your account of childhood pretty much mirrored mine. I grew up in a working-class Irish neighborhood outside Boston. My sister and I were the only Asian kids in town. Just thinking about walking to the store makes my stomach hurt to this day. And I’m 38. I would just stare straight at the sidewalk because kids on bikes would ching chong me, and if I dared look them in the eye, they’d stop their bikes, surround me and say “what did you say to me?” A beating would commence shortly thereafter. Kids would lean out of their cars (parents driving, I assume) and call me “chink.” My sixth grade teacher one day told me to “go back to Shanghai,” which was followed by raucous laughter from the rest of the class.

    I still drive extra slow when I visit my mom back home, just in case I see any of them (working at the local gas station, I’m sure). Yes, I remember their names and faces. And I won’t hesitate to deck em.

  10. Jen says:

    I’m humbled by all of your responses and sending my deepest gratitude your way. Thanks also to those of you who’ve shared your own stories of being bullied and being on the outside looking in. This is the closest we Asians–and those who love us–are ever going to get to a group hug, isn’t it? Love you guys.

  11. [...] the phrase “ching-chonged” either but immediately “got it” while reading the Disgrasian piece on Asher Brown (and resultant comments) (h/t to Jim for sharing this via [...]

  12. lizditz says:

    In addition to LGBTQ youth, the neurodiverse (children with autism, ADHD or learning disabilities) are routinely bullied in k-12 classrooms.

    The mother of a child with autism, who was bullied so severely he withdrew from school, has started a new effort.

    http://endthebullying.wordpress.com/

    End the Bullying uses its blog, a Facebook page, and Twitter to build a grassroots base of a grassroots base of people who are willing to provide support and insight for children who experience bullying and for their parents. Our hope is to provide resources via the Internet and, when needed, locally, for children and families who are experiencing bullying, especially when the authorities are not handling the situation as they should.

    In news stories about bullying, especially when it has led to suicide, parents note that they repeatedly tried to contact school administrators or other authorities, only to be ignored. Many families whose stories do not make the news also attest to this cycle of nonresponsiveness. End the Bullying focuses on identifying people across the United States who can serve as contacts and facilitators for parents and children whose complaints are not being heard.

  13. [...] By Guest Contributor Jen Wang, cross-posted from DISGRASIAN [...]

  14. noneinaye says:

    For me the racist bullying was awful in elementary and middle school. It seemed like most of the teachers just didn’t notice or didn’t care so I thought I was just supposed to deal with it, and it didn’t help that most of the faculty thought that I was mentally disabled some how…..Those bastards.
    I started fighting back and beat up a few/several other kids and it died for the most part but what that whole ordeal taught me (might is right) took serious efforts to undo, or ‘is taking’ i should say. Thank FSM I had positive people around me at the time.

    Also
    Dear Jen,
    I love the humor on this blog but I just want to let you know this stuff shines just as well. Keep it up.
    Sincerely
    Me

  15. Diana says:

    @noneinaye i second your note to jen.

  16. Darlana Stevens says:

    Very well written.Coming from a small town , farming community , and of course all republican I can too relate to the narrow path you need to follow to be under the Radar. Still today, I hear the bigotry, now with a new name to give it some face called the Tea Party, people have no problem talking like it was the 50s.I am a member of the LGBT Community and thank God for the internet where it is becoming very apparent that there are as many LGBT families as there are the so-called straight families.

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