When I was 6, we moved to Maine from Guam, in November of that year. It was 1973 and the nation's whitest state was even whiter than it is now. My classmates didn't know what I was---"Are you a chink?"---and I couldn't swim in the ocean for what seemed like forever, to a 6-year-old who used to swim every day. I was, in other words, terrified, and ripped out of what I didn't know was paradise, thrown into a world full of white children who couldn't say "Korea" much less fathom what seemed normal to any kid in Guam: that one parent was of one ethnicity, and another parent, of another. They came up to me on the playground, pulling their eyes first up and then down, and then in different directions, singing a song designed, it would seem, to make fun of just me, the school's only mixed race child: "My mother's Chinese, My father's Japanese, I'm all mixed UP!" The first time someone sang that to me, I got so angry I hit her with my lunchbox and was sent to the principal's office, where I repeated what had just happened to me, including the song, the intonations and the eye-pulling.
I didn't get in trouble. But this of course made me an enemy of my tormentors.
The fact that I was Korean and white was lost on them, and I decided not to waste my time explaining myself after the first year there, retreating to the quiet of the town library whenever possible. Worse, I was allergic, very allergic, to the plants in this new state: ragweed, pussy willow, milkweed and then... grass, which was everywhere. I required monthly shots at my doctor's office. It was easy to feel doomed, and I did. Down the street from the doctor's office, a corner drugstore sold comics and I was allowed to buy one each time I went, my arm aching from the shot. In 1975, two years into this protocol of sneezing and racist taunts, I walked to the comic spinning rack, and saw this.
This was the first issue of the X-Men I ever bought. It was also the beginning of a story that required Professor X to recruit heroes to save the original team---a team that just happened to be all white. The new team was not: Storm, from Africa, Sunfire, from Japan, and then a Native American member, Thunderbird. Sunfire was, sadly, emotionally unstable, not exactly a great role model for me, but I didn't identify with him as an Asian as much as I did with the entire situation of the mutant---someone different by virtue of a genetics they couldn't control. I felt recruited. It was as if Professor X himself had appeared at my side in the store.
In that issue, the team is sent to Krakoa, a fictional island in the Pacific, the place I'd just left, that turns out to be a giant mutant itself, holding the old white team captive inside of it. All in all, that first issue was a mix of everything I was experiencing and had lost and turned upside down into cheap paper and four-color ink. I went home with it, feeling electrified by forces I didn't understand but that held me up---much like the heroes. And when the new mutants underwent the change signaling the beginning of their abilities, which involved powerful headaches much like my allergies, it made it easier to bear. I could imagine I was going to come through with the ability to read people's minds or emit bolts of fire from my hands.
To Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, the writer and artist who made this issue, thank you. It was like you sent that team out to rescue me.