I read this article in Forbes today, entitled, “I am Chinese American,” and I found myself nodding enthusiastically to it over and over again. Written by “Louisa” and originally posted to the blog LoveLoveChina (which I’ve never heard of), I was struck with the thought that this is how many of “us” feel.
There are, of course, some subtle differences between my experiences and that of Louisa. I am, perhaps, more “American” than Chinese. I sing “America the Beautiful” to my daughter because it’s one of the few songs whose words I remember. I long to have a better connection with and understanding of my culture and heritage, but feel I’ve lost the opportunity to really do so. My inability to speak or understand Cantonese (don’t even ask me about Mandarin) in anything outside of a food setting hampers my ability to connect with my culture. My decision to live in Boston doesn’t help much either. I find much of what I grew up with cherishing slipping away from me the further removed I am from my childhood home. I am well accustomed to the looks of disappointment I get when I encounter first-generation Chinese.
And I play into some of the stereotypes. I frequently offend people with comments like, “My people gamble” or “My people are superstitious.” If you’ve ever been at a Mini-Baccarat or Pai-Gow room in Vegas, you know that those statements are not without merit. I’m leaving alone the matter of whether boys are the golden children as that’s a matter of some contention in my family.
I never “forget” that I am Chinese, but it isn’t always at the forefront of my mind. As Louisa says, I am a person. Some days I wake up feeling different parts of what makes up my experiences – an American, a mother, a marketer, Chinese, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Practical, whimsical, smart, dumb, silly, strong, sick, confused, educated, in the dark, sad, happy, optimistic, cynical, liberal, outgoing, shy, grateful and a dozen other things – sometimes simultaneously. No single element or experience defines me. I am the composition of my experiences, just as your experiences make up you.
I wonder whether this Chinese American distinction will be even more prominent for K. I think about the experience I had when I signed her up for early intervention:
Administrator: So what ethnicity is she?
Me: She’s Chines…I mean, she’s half Chinese and half Caucasian (I always start answering this question for me instead of for her)
Administrator: Umm…I can’t choose two ethnicities. Is she more one than the other?
Me: No, she’s half Chinese and half Caucasian. I am 100% Chinese. Her father is 100% Caucasian. So she’s 50/50.
Administrator: I’m really sorry and kind of embarrassed by this. But if you had to choose one over the other, what would you pick?
Me: Uh. Hmm. Uh. I guess Chinese.
I really hope that by the time K starts filling out these forms on her own, the concept of
bi-racial multi-racial children will be more prevalent so she isn’t forced to “choose.” She will be the product of both her ethnicities, and the sum of all her experiences. I can’t wait to see it.
In the meantime, take the time to read this blog – it’s well worth it: