I have spent my whole life feeling ashamed of being Chinese …
And to be honest, even today, sitting here in my apartment located within the Middle Kingdom, I, a so called “ABC” or American Born Chinese, hesitate to embrace the fact.
I hesitate because I don’t quite understand …
How I could be “from” here.
Me. A kid born in Virginia, raised in California, and who taught school in Tennessee. Whose parents both immigrated to the States from the Philippines. Who served in the Peace Corps for two years. A current “expat” abroad. A familiar face within a sea of unfamiliar faces. Black hair, brown eyes, and looks of strong, quiet determination.
I have come here because I seek to understand …
Why it is that I feel so apart. Completely, if not totally detached from this piece of my identity. My Chinese-ish-ness. And why it is that I feel so tempted just not to care.
The American in me keeps saying:
It’s because you’re not Chinese, you’re American. Sure you might be Asian. Chinese? Maybe. But who really cares? All that matters it that you were born and raised in the U.S. of A. which means that you are and will always be a Yankee. A patriot. Someone who cares about the ideals of freedom and diversity. Race doesn’t matter. All those classifications do is divide. People are people and you are a person. An American person. We are made up of all the peoples of the world. We are “The Great Melting Pot” of a nation. We are a mixture of everything and everyone. In order to be Chinese-Chinese, you have to have been born and raised in China …
It is also the voice that does not ask before taking a pause and continuing.
Those people are different. They don’t have the same ideals of truth, liberty, and justice that we do. They’re a Communist State. An authoritarian dictatorship where the peoples’ voices are quashed and human rights are violated on a daily basis. Do you really want to identify with them? Be grateful that you were born into the greatest country in the world. Embrace your nationality and forget about your ethnic origins. You don’t believe in the same things they do. You are part of a different culture and alternate worldview. So how is it that you can expect to understand what it means to be Chinese? You aren’t Chinese so stop trying.
And it is here, at this point, that I take pause before continuing …
Because while it is true that I am American, and that it is hard for me to understand how I am also Chinese, it is even harder for me to understand why it is that I can’t be both.
Why it is that, despite the great idyllic rhetoric that comes with the title, being American in practice looks a lot like fear of not looking American enough. That by somehow hiding under the umbrella of “Asian” I can hide from the torrent of hate that comes from being someone who has to simply suffer through the scourge of looking yellow on the outside.
That being just “Asian” is not enough to avoid the negative stereotypes attached to the visual classification.
Even here, in Asia, I find myself flinching when I am mistaken for a local, and not the true, red-white-and-blue bleeding American that I am. Ashamed that I have to actually try and speak the language since 9 times out of 10 I will be expected to. Frustrated by every confused look and questioning glance. “You are from the USA?” they might ask.
The most commonly asked question I get is, “But you look Asian, where are you really from?”
… Not only here, but in the States as well.
And so it comes full circle.
Back to me here, in China, trying to figure out where it is that I am really from. And once again, to be honest, I don’t know. Really. I’m still struggling through it. Mainly I think it’s because I am afraid of what it would do to my American-ness to take responsibility for the multifaceted nature of my own individual personhood. To stand up and acknowledge my color in the face of a “colorless” collective that seeks to only give color to that which can be distanced and labeled as “other” and therefore bad and a danger to our society.
Our way of life rides on the back of an image.
And at the moment, that image is still skeptical about pretty much every yellow shade …