I Identify As Multicultural, But Still Don't Seem To Truly 'Belong' To Any Culture

I Identify As Multicultural, But Still Don't Seem To Truly 'Belong' To Any Culture

I was born Cambodian, raised Italian and lived in an American town. Each culture added something new to my life but they left me confused about who I am.


"What defines someone's identity?" is something I've been asking myself for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I never fully knew who I was. I was born Cambodian, raised Italian and live in America. Each culture comes with different values that contradict each other. Despite being a part of all three cultures, sometimes I feel like I don't belong to any of them.

My dominant identity is my American one. My surroundings are American, and it's the culture that I know better than the rest. My hometown is what I call the "Epitome of American Life." There are white picket fences, the grass is a lush green, kids are always playing outside, all the houses lookalike, sports are a big deal, the school system is one of the best in Jersey, and most of the households can be classified as "upper middle class."

Sometimes I feel like I'm right at home, but I also feel like I could be from a different planet. The diversity is nearly nonexistent. As far as I know, I was the only Cambodian in my grade, and by my estimations, only 15 percent of my graduating senior class were people of color. The lack of diversity within the town makes me stand out even more compared to my peers, but I also don't mind it.

Despite being Cambodian, I can't help but feel that I'm American because of the surroundings I grew up in. I eat American food all the time (some of it happens to be my favorite food). I dress like an American student, complete with sweatpants and uggs; I talk like an American with all the hip words and accents, and I act like one with my fast-paced life that's centered around work and school.

On the other hand, Italian culture is another large part of my life. It's been with me ever since I was adopted, but it takes a back seat to American culture. I think of myself as Italian-American, not Jersey City Italian-American, but first generation, fresh off the boat, Italian-American. My dad immigrated to the US when he was a boy and grew up in an Italian-speaking household in NY and he's tried to pass down Italian traditions to my sister and me.

Whenever someone asks me what I am, I'm ready to respond with "Italian" but then I realize they are probably asking about who I am based on my looks, which is something I don't connect with. I eat Italian food every day and I'm basically fluent in Italian. I'm close to my Italian relatives and I grew up with Italian values. But despite all of this, I feel like I'll never be Italian because it's not in my blood.

By blood, I am Cambodian. I tested my DNA and the results were I'm 62% Vietnamese Southeast Asian and 38% Dai-Tai Southeast Asian, which means that I'm Cambodian. I'm proud to be Cambodian, but sometimes it feels like a burden. My dad always tells me that I'm the product of the Vietnamese War or the Khmer Rouge. Whether or not that's true is still up for debate. I came from the same area where the war happened, but we never found out caused me to end up in an orphanage. I've always been curious about my birth parents and I've wanted to look into it, but I don't know what would happen if I do.

The only leads I could have for my birth family was the orphanage I was adopted in, but it closed a few years ago. The only other leads that I have are my name from the orphanage, "Melea" and a farm. My parents said that when I was younger I would tell them that my birth parents were on a farm in Cambodia. Everything that I said to my parents could be the product of an overactive imagination or it could be the truth, but I don't think I'll ever find out which one unless I go back to Cambodia and try to find out.

Even with all of this, my Cambodian identity is absent from my life. I look Cambodian, I have Cambodian clothes, and I have a stuffed toy that I took with me from my orphanage, but that's really it. I've never been back to Cambodia and I've never explored my birth culture and what it stands for. I just look Cambodian, nothing else.

Living with all of these identities is difficult, as it gets confusing and I feel lost in terms of who I am. When I filled out my college applications, they asked what my descent is and I didn't know how to answer that question. I wanted to say "Italian" because it's the culture I identify with, but I had to stop myself because genetically, I'm not Italian.

As much as I love having a strong connection with Italy and America, I wish I could be more in touch with my Cambodian side, but I've taken a few steps towards this goal. Three years ago, my friend and I went to a Cambodian festival in Maryland. Going there allowed me to dip my toe into Cambodia's culture, but I felt like it wasn't enough. Returning to Cambodia is the only way I can truly connect with my Cambodian side and make it a larger part of my life. Of course, I could try bringing a little bit of the culture to me by adopting some of their ways of life or eating more of their food, but it's hard to change my lifestyle when I'm not fully immersed in it.

All of these cultures and identities have shaped me into the person I am today, and as much as I wish I could only belong to one, I am glad to have had the experiences that each one has brought me.

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18 Things To Know Before Dating A Firefighter

You'll learn how to tell the difference between different kinds of sirens.

There are just certain things you are going to want to know before dating a fireman. In my experience, I had to learn along the way. But at the end of all the calls, constantly smelling his gear in the car and sometimes even cancelled plans, I sure do love my firefighter!

SEE ALSO: 10 Reasons To Date A Country Boy

You were promised a list, so here it is:

1. If they are even within 20 minutes of the station, they will always leave you to go on a call.

No matter the circumstances, if you have a fireman on your hands, he will jet to the car and be on his way.

SEE ALSO: What It's Like To Date A Police Officer

2. Meeting nights are not something you try and fight with them about. They are going to leave and you do not have to like it because it wasn't up to you anyway.

I have learned that these nights are not optional. Yes, other people miss them, but not my firefighter.

3. No matter where you are or what you're doing the minute they hear a firetrucks horn, they're looking for it and hoping they're not missing anything good.

You will learn the lingo. Structures, fully involved (the good stuff) smoke alarms, cat in a tree (ehh I mean they are fireman...soooo still good stuff).

4. They know the exact difference between an ambulance, cop, and, of course, a fire truck siren.

Which means that you will have to learn, too.

5. You’ll have to accept that when he has to do hall rental cleanup, you're going with to help.

You fold the chairs and he stacks them. And Im talking at like 12 a.m.,1 a.m.

6. When you come around the firehouse, there will be jokes made and they'll mess with him about you or even you about him.

Honestly it's a giant bromance going on and they prey on this kinda stuff.

7. At first, you won't really have a name to the fire guys. Until you're around long enough.

You'll just be Boyfriend's name's girlfriend.

8. The fire pager goes where he goes.

Next to the bed, in the car, next to your bed, your living room, EVERYWHERE. And even if it's not the real pager, it's the dog app that I can never remember the name of so dog app it is. (Say that really fast to get the full effect).

9. They will probably wear their station shirt/apparel at least 4-5 days a week.


10. If you've got a good one, you're always put first. The list will always go "You, the firehouse, me, everyone else."

But secretly they always want to put the firehouse first.

11. You will learn and know more stations, trucks, members, and chiefs than you will ever want to admit.

Unbelievably true.

12. When you're driving and you see a fire station, you'll have to look at it.

If its an amazing building, you'll have to remember the name. And then you'll have to tell him about it. And then you've just proved number 11 correct. Add it to your list.

13. Never make plans while he's on a call. You can never know when he'll be back.

Even if the calls are short, they could stay at least another hour washing the trucks and being boys, of course.

14. In case you didn't understand the severity of the first one, if you are on the phone and you hear the pager go off in the background, just tell him you love him and hang up.

Because if you don't, he will. "Got a call, Love you, bye." Mid-sentence is always what you want to hear.

15. You'll never want to watch "Ladder 49" again.

You will cry like a baby and then want to make him quit.

16. Outside of the stations, fireman tend to forget that fire isn't a toy and it's pretty damn hot.

*Playing with the lighter fluid or burning things on the stove*
"No it's alright, I'm a firefighter."

17. You will start your own station shirt collection.

From NYFD memorial shirts, a station from where you're vacationing even acquired old shirts of his, you will have started your own pile of station shirts.

18. You can't get angry or upset when he is unavailable because he's going to go to the firehouse for the fifth time that week, or if there's another fire prevention thing to do.

You can't be mad because he's doing what he loves and also because a man in a uniform isn't too shabby.

There are a lot more things to know before dating a fireman, but the rest you'll just have to learn along the way.

SEE ALSO: 5 Things To Know Before Dating Someone With Anxiety

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'The Farewell' Brings An Asian-American Narrative To Hollywood

I've never imagined that a story like this would make its way to Hollywood, and it's definitely a welcome change.


The trailer for Lulu Wang's "The Farewell" was recently released. The film, based on Wang's own experience, stars Awkwafina as Billi, a Chinese-American woman who travels to China after learning her grandmother has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. "The Farewell" initially debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in January, and currently holds a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

"The Farewell" is an exciting film for members of the Asian-American community, as it encompasses many of our own experiences in having family overseas. Having this Asian-American narrative portrayed in Hollywood is especially groundbreaking and important to the community. "Crazy Rich Asians" has received much well-deserved acclaim for its leap in Asian representation, but the film did not necessarily depict a completely relatable experience and was only one story out of many in the Asian-American community. There were aspects of the characters' cultures that allowed the Asian-American audience to connect with much of the film, but the upper-class narrative wasn't quite as accessible to everyone.

While "Crazy Rich Asians" portrays Asians in a way that is very much uncommon in Hollywood and American media in general and had a hand in helping to break stereotypes, "The Farewell" introduces a nearly universal first-generation American or immigrant narrative to Hollywood. In doing so, the film allows many members of the Asian-American community to truly see their own experiences and their own stories on the screen.

For me, the trailer alone was enough to make me tear up, and I've seen many other Asian Americans share a similar experience in seeing the trailer. The film reminds us of our own families, whether it's our grandparents or any other family living overseas. I've never imagined that a story like this would make its way to Hollywood, and it's definitely a welcome change.

"The Farewell," which is scheduled for release on July 12, 2019, depicts a family dynamic in the Asian-American experience that hits home for many, including myself. The initial critical response, especially towards Awkwafina's performance, is certainly promising and will hopefully motivate more Asian-American and other minority filmmakers to bring their own stories to Hollywood.


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