Chapter 12:

Your Story

An American Otaku

The air in the school was electric. The arrival of the school spirit week and everything that entails has created several a wide range of emotions and thoughts in everyone as they anticipated the school events could be seen in their faces and the whispers throughout the classroom and the halls.

“Our classes end at 1:30pm this week isn’t that great.” One student tells another as they walk to their lockers.

“Yeah but we have to go to some pep rallies and junk, I don’t care who’s playing what sport.” He responds, “These rallies are just society telling us what to be.”

“Ha ha ha!” He laughs in response to his friend's cynical tone. “Man, we should ditch. If we don’t have to be there, why not?”

In contrast groups of students could be seen walking together in jerseys and bright smiles. Their attitude reflected the fact that they are to be admired not to be doing the admiring.

“Let's go!” one tough looking student with a chiseled physique and short brown hair shouted out. “We got some games to play, football forever!”

“Nah, man. It’s all about basketball.” A taller, lean student, with dark skin and waving fine hair said.

“Please! Basketball is for losers, Football is better!” He says with a smile on his face to his friend.

“Losers?! I said Basketball, not Baseball!”

They both let out a loud laugh which triggers a response from the young lady walking beside them.

“You two are such jerks.” She says with a hidden smile.

The arrival of school spirit week created a true divergence in opinion amongst the students at the school, one of dismissal and the other of celebration. A divergence that the school staff has been all too aware of for a while and only recently decided to address instead of dictate. The spirit week was decided to be more inclusive. Days of celebration of the sports things and days to celebrate other activities and events among the students. The band from the music room no longer existed only to bring praise to the sporting events but also display musical compositions and cheer for their meetups. Other presentations scheduled were dance, science and art class, the art class presentation which Isabel and the other members of the anime club were taking part in.

Amongst the noisy crowds, Isabel walked among them, over hearing each and every one of their opinions. What they said or thought was nothing new but today the things they said lingered in her mind more than ever before.

While walking Isabel thought to herself, “I wonder which are we? Are we up there to get praise, to be a part of the elite? Will people see us as just an annoyance they are forced to listen to or would they see us as something unique that they would grow curious about and how to enjoy.”

With these thoughts weighing on her mind, Isabel's expression came off as dismal. Then stops in her tracks and shakes her head left and right. “I’m only confusing myself because of the tension and the nervousness that’s starting to fill me. Public speaking has never been something I was good at or wanted to do.”

With that thought, suddenly Erin’s image appeared in her head. Her face and expression was like how it always was most of the time, soft, round shape with golden hair falling down around her face with two or three strands dropping down and covering her bright blue eyes that still easily shined through. She spoke, words that were important to Isabel, words that she needed to be reiterated, “If you’re supposed to be there, then act like you belong there.”

Isabel smiled after hearing those words, entered her classroom, the last class of the day before the art class would have to give their presentation and sat down. “That girl, where does she get her confidence?”

As the teacher began her lecture, Isabel listened intently but still couldn’t quiet the sound of her beating heart which thumped due to a mix of nervousness and excitement. Before she knew it, what seemed like the start of the class, quickly became the end and announcements began to sound off from the intercoms stationed in each classroom which was giving off instructions.

The principal's voice begins to speak in a very professional and calm way, “Attention students, the school assembly will begin shortly in the auditorium. Please proceed down to the room in an orderly fashion once your room numbers are called. They will be faculty members there to show you to your specific class assigned seats. If you are presenting you may proceed to your gathering areas now. Thank you.”

As soon as the announcement ends Isabel gets up and walks toward the teacher, creating shock and disbelief among the students.

“She doesn’t play sports right?” One student whispers.

“Maybe she plays a musical instrument.” Another student replies as they watch her walk to the front of the class.

“Excuse me Mrs. Heredia.” Isabel says.

The teacher turns to look at her and notices the slip of paper in her hand granting her permission to leave and prepare for the assembly. Without further investigation she nods to her and says, “Go ahead and leave.”

Isabel, who was preparing to display the paper to the teacher, brings it back down and places it into her pocket and exits the classroom. She begins to make her way down the hall and as she gets closer to the school entrance a certain blonde hair girl comes into sight.

Erin, who was leaning against the wall, stands up straight and looks at Isabel when she arrives, “What took you so long?”

In response to Erin’s question Isabel smiles at her.

Erin, “So what now?”

Isabel, “We can head down to the art room and meetup with the rest of the guys and the other people giving art presentations.”

Erin nods to her and they head off.

Upon entering the classroom they are greeted by the art teacher, Mr. Sayavong.

“Ah Isabel, glad you made it.” His attention then turns to Erin, “Oh, so this must be the other member of your club, Erin correct?”

“Well that’s the name she goes by at least.” Trey says who has been sitting at a table alongside Anthony, waiting for their arrival.

Erin immediately gives Trey quite the glare out of the corner of her eyes.

Not knowing what it meant, Sayavong continued on after a brief pause. “All the other students are getting prepared. Whatever you need to bring down to the auditorium, you can set up now. We are going up first so we’ll set up the stage and each student can mention their work and give statements on it and the expressions they are trying to convey.”

Isabel nods to him and then Erin and her head over to where Trey and Anthony were seated.

Erin greets Trey with a slap to the back of his head.

“Ow!” Trey says.

“So are you guys ready?” Anthony says. “I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous.”

Trey, who is rubbing the back of his head, responds to Anthony, “How are you nervous, aren’t you used to doing outlandish, crazy things in public?”

Anthony, “That’s improvisation. Improvisation! This is a speech and having to say things you prepared, like that school stuff. I hate school stuff.”

“Spoken like a true literary master.” Erin says.

Isabel, “It’s ok. We’ll do it all together. What we prepared, I’ll talk and when you can, go ahead and jump in anytime.”

Anthony stands up and begins to wipe away tears if he were actually shedding any, “Isabel-san!! Thank you for carrying the burden for us. I won’t let you down.”

Trey shrugs off Anthony’s crazy antics and begins to pack up their displays and prepare them for transportation.

“Alright, is everyone ready?” Sayavong announces to the entire group, “Okay let's all head to the auditorium. I’m confident that you will all make the art class proud.”

The group of students all make their way out into the hall and begin to head to their destination. When they arrived a sense of wonder started to come over them. With no one in there and only the minimum lights on, the auditorium never seemed larger.

As they all begin to set up the stage which is surrounded by rows of seats, they can hear the intercom call classrooms down to start filling the seats so that they can begin the first presentation of the day.

Before long the once peaceful and serene auditorium was now brightly lit and filled with students, and nonstop chatter which could be heard throughout.

“Uh…” Trey turns and looks at Isabel.

Isabel, “Don’t look at me!”

Erin, “Wow, you guys have a lot more students in your class and it’s a different feel when they all aren’t wearing stupid uniforms.” She looks left and right, “Not very easy on the eyes either.”

“Erin! Erin!!” They all start to call out to her who is in the center of the stage while they all are off stage.

“Hm?” Erin turns and looks at them.

Trey, “ You doofus, will you get over here!”

Erin hurries off the stage and then the lights in the auditorium begin to dim again. The art teacher, Mr. Sayavong begins his announcement.

“I am pleased to be able to start off our spirit week with our art exhibition. As you may or may not know, along with some other schools in our district we put up an art showcase in the mall for the people of the town to see. Today our students will give you some insight to that work and what it meant to them. I hope you enjoy it and will join together in a round of applause as appreciation for what they have done. First off please join me in a round of applause for our first students as they go over their work.”

With that, Isabel watches the first group of art students walk off and onto the stage. The crowd applauded, some sincere, some half hearted but claps that could be heard regardless.

The students begin to speak but their words don’t reach Isabel as she begins to focus on herself, her thoughts and what she was going to say. Unable to catch her breath she starts to reflect on the past month and everything that has happened.

She thinks of her quiet life of daydreaming and reading manga all alone and Anthony who came into her life unapologetically blasting Japanese pop music out of his older brother's car. Trey, and the mean look in his eyes which held back a certain sorrow and regret. Then Erin, who she hopes to learn her actual name one day, who knew so much but struggled to find her own identity.

Her heart began to beat but not like before, it was beating calmly and felt like it was filling her entire body with warmth. It melted away her fears and filled her with determination. She placed her hand over heart as if she was attempting to capture, no, remember this sensation to always carry with her. As she came back to her senses, she could hear her art teacher calling her and her group onto the stage.

“Now I present to you some pieces of art from The Anime Club.”

Whispers once again could be heard among the auditorium.

“Anime? What’s that?”

“Art those the Chinese cartoons or something?”

“Oh I know, like that magical girl show?”

“Ha ha now, it’s like that ninja show with boobs or something.”

Not hearing all the conversation, Isabel and the rest of the anime club walk off onto the stage in front of their artworks on display.

Isabel, “...Anime, Anime is different. It’s not what you know about, what you’re familiar with or anything that is considered a culture norm here. It’s animation from Japan and an entirely different culture. They have their own values, norms, influences and tropes and although they may not all be good, it provides a perspective from other people. A perspective where we could learn from. It’s easy to demand for something to be the way you want or conform to your norms but it’s harder to find what makes something special and integrate it into your life and learn and grow with other people together. Taking as much as you give. Trying to become more complete with every bit of information you receive…I um…I…. When I first watched anime, I found something I liked. Everything I watched before, cartoons were just teaching me to be a good kid or focused on morals or comics about endless conflict. I just couldn’t find my place. When I viewed anime, it may be silly or exploitative but it was emotional and made me want to cry…I…Um…It made me…”

Anthony, “It made me feel cool! It gave me inspiration! It made me want to live and revel in it. For such a long time, I wasn’t happy, I couldn’t find my happiness but when I watched anime, I wanted to be someone, I wanted to laugh, talk and share it. I know some people think I’m weird but I wanted to express my excitement and…and that’s do it right? Anime made me find something…and..”

Trey, “It’s something to be proud of. One of the greatest things is being unique. Sharing your flaws and strengths with others and inspiring each other. I wish…I wanted to be stronger, to be someone who is able to stand tall in front of a strong wind but I wasn’t. I fell but now with them, I’m going to stand up and continue fighting. Anime has brought me new experiences and I shouldn’t conform to others which is why I’m here now. These works are things we created, things we treasured and they show off why they are the way they are and how they got to be like that.”

Erin, “Understanding people. It’s not something I really ever cared about. I only saw them as a result of their actions. Not paying much attention to why. I never dreamed about how they could become the way they are. Aren’t people supposed to act the way that they are supposed…I never thought that maybe, maybe something could have influenced them on such a big level to break what we consider the norm. In spite of how stupid they may act!”

More confident than ever, Isabel looks up, head held high, “So please join us in enjoying these works. They come from Japan and show off their specific heritage. Some are inspired by war and the result of wars in their country, other stories about their myths and legends or their ideas of romance. They all offer a unique perspective into who they are. We did our best to show them off in these arrangements so please take your time to enjoy these works.”

As Isabel stopped talking, the auditorium became quiet as the teacher approached the microphone.

Sayavong, “Thank you Isabel. Well please join me in appl…”

Before the teacher can finish a roar of applause is heard throughout.

“Wooo! That art looks cool!”

“Hey, I want to see what Japanese romance comics are like.”

“War huh? Like world war? Probably better than history class! ha ha ha!”

The applause continues and Isabel turns and faces Anthony, Trey and Erin who are all standing behind her. With tears in her eyes, Isabel says, “We did it!”

They all smile, nod and say, “Yeah, we did it!”