As a Chinese-American born and raised in the United States, I adapted to the American way of life despite efforts by my parents to stay connected with my heritage. I quickly became aware that with the shape and size of my eyes, the darkness of my hair, and the color of my skin, I was different. I realized that I had habits and behaviors influenced by my Chinese parents that were unlike those of the majority of people around me. Most of my friends were American, and I was often amazed whenever I went to their houses because they looked and felt so different from my own. I was accustomed to taking my shoes off every time I entered my house, but it seemed like everyone I knew walked around with their shoes on. At school, other kids had lunches filled with snacks and sandwiches that looked more delicious than my leftover rice and vegetables. I remember asking my mom to make me PB&J sandwiches because they were so classically American, and I wanted to fit in with everyone else. The feeling I had might have been embarrassment for my differences, but as I grew older I naturally started behaving and following the people around me. People tell me all the time that I don't seem or "act" Asian, but that is to be expected since I was born in the United States and lived here my whole life. I was influenced by my environment. I never once questioned that I was an American. Though my parents forced me to attend Chinese classes every week to keep me proficient in reading, writing and speaking, I eventually lost touch with my roots and abandoned the Chinese language. I now regret not taking more Chinese classes and more deeply appreciating my culture and language. There is a divide that separates me from my family and natives in China. I feel disconnected because language interferes with communication, and I’m ignorant of the history and values of my race.
In the middle of my freshman year at college, I was surprised by the number of students who could speak another language. I met a few friends who learned Chinese in high school, and I realized that I threw away a skill and privilege. I took my own culture and unique background for granted by not continuing to stay connected with my second language. My parents constantly use Chinese around me in person and through text messages. I always communicate back to them in English. So I decided to take a Chinese speaking class during my spring semester. I started to recall more vocabulary and became better at speaking. I made new friends with other ABCs (American Born Chinese) like me, as well as non-Chinese students. I developed a good relationship with my Chinese professor, and I will be in Shanghai with her and another professor this summer studying abroad. I'm going to get the chance to intern with a company in China while exploring the city and improving my language skills. I have visited a few times before, but I have never traveled alone. I already feel closer to my heritage, but this trip will help me become fully immersed in the culture.
It took me a few years to really understand who I am and where I come from. I'm proud of my background and my identity. I am Chinese-American, even though I look Asian and act American. I am putting in the effort to become more connected with my people and values. It's important to me to remember and honor my roots. Thanks, mom and dad, for telling me stories, educating me on Chinese history and traditions, and keeping me close with family in China. I will work to strengthen these ties and develop more knowledge about my race. I am finally finding myself.