Thank you for the new followers! I honestly wasn’t expecting anything after just one post, so I was so pleasantly surprised!
To tell you guys more about myself, I’ve dug up a journal post that I wrote last year. At that time, my journal entries were centered around this prompt: who am I? Though, now that a year has passed, I’ve stopped trying to create labels for myself, this journal entry still holds true.
Feb 3, 2013
Who am I? I suppose I’ll try to answer my question by building on something I already know. I was born on December 2nd, 1997 to two completely Chinese parents in New York. Because of this, I am the first one in my family to have an American citizenship.
When I fill in a demographic sheet, however, I bubble in Asian. Which doesn’t offend me – my friend, for example, is a Hungarian-Canadian-Indian-American-Scot, and she is forced to condense her identity to Asian and White – so I personally don’t have much to complain about. Because, yes, I am Asian, but as I bubble in my race, I know that it isn’t completely right. I have been identifying myself as Chinese-American for years now. Of course, this decision hasn’t always been so firm. Most of my friends who also have two Chinese parents, after all, identify themselves as just “Chinese;” some even sneer a bit at American culture, as if they are tourists, not residents. In my elementary school years, I felt uncomfortable at just calling myself “Chinese” because it didn’t explain everything. Calling myself “American” rendered me tongue-tied and feeling a bit like a liar.
Once upon a time, as a chubby infant, I knew Chinese and English. Then I became deaf for a time (earwax), and I never could balance the two languages again. Going to an American daycare permanently replaced Mandarin with English. I cannot recall any of this. My whole remembered life has been a confused struggle with a language I was already supposed to know.
Chinese school is held at a local highschool, every Saturday at nine sharp. The teachers were motivated Chinese mothers, not certified teachers. Seven years. Seven years of sitting in a hard chair, not understanding a word of my teacher, begging the clock to move faster, walking the hallways alone during break because none of my friends were at such a low level as I was. Hot tears of frustration clouded the sight of the homework book lying before me, so I just didn’t do it. But I returned every week. All the other Chinese kids could speak the language so perfectly, they didn’t even need the school. I kept going because of the overwhelming shame when my parents’ friends would say something to me in Mandarin, only for them to say “oh” when my mother or father explained that “ta ting bu dong” – a phrase that I could, cruelly, understand. I kept going because I felt that it was my duty as a Chinese person. That’s who I was, right?
After one particularly disappointing class (on my part), I went to my mother’s room and sat on the bed next to her. She had just showered and had her robe on. It was time for bed. I asked her something about me being Chinese, and I think I was expecting reassurance like: of course I was a good Chinese girl, of course. Instead, there was a pause. “You’re Chinese by blood,” she said. “But not by your culture.”
I never had heard of such a thing before. “There’s a difference?” I asked. “There’s a difference between blood and culture?”
She responded yes, and I remembered that she did not look at me. After a moment of silence I went back to my room.
This was in third grade; I think that I preserved my mother’s words so well because I felt that I had failed her, somehow. But my mother is not the most eloquent. Looking back…maybe she was trying to tell me…that it was okay.
I’m not sure exactly when or how I permanently decided that I was Chinese-American. It was probably after elementary school, and probably during one of my lazy musings in my room. There were certainly hints about me that helped me realized that I could not identify myself as just Chinese. When picking food at Wegmans, I made a beeline towards the typical American fried food, letting my parents pick through the Asian food section. By the time I was in seventh grade, I started befriending an extremely diverse group of people. I read Year of the Dog and related the most to Grace when she could not understand the mean girls at her Taiwanese camp.
I quit Chinese school in sixth grade and fell in love with English literature and writing, an unprecedented interest of my family. I visited China for the first time and the waiters and waitresses took one glance at me and spoke to me in English. All these were stepping stones to the realization that I am American, and had been all along. I’m not American because of a citizenship. I am American because I recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day of my life; I am American because that is my culture, and there isn’t any shame to that. “Chinese” isn’t part of my description just because my parents are, either – I definitely have the work and school ethic typical of an Asian family, I find Chinese art beautiful, I still long for the concise clip of Mandarin, I absolutely love the lion dances held at the local Cantonese restaurant during Chinese New Year, and something in my spine tingles at the crooning of a Chinese violin.
Thank you for reading!