Who Am I?

What does it mean to have an identity? How do we choose to self identify? For the first 18 years of my life, this question rarely crossed my mind. I was in a community of people similar to me and never though to question who I was or what made up my identity.Moving to Davidson definitely changed the way I viewed myself. Suddenly I was a minority and didn’t feel like I fit in with everyone else. I found myself craving the food from back home. Just 2 months before, I had taken such little things as this for granted. I ate what I had been eating for 18 years and simply took it for granted. It amazed me how much less happy I could be when I did not have a simple bowl of rice, meat, and vegetables for weeks at a time. I began to question who I was. I knew that I was American. I also knew that I was Asian. But what did it mean to be Asian-American? How could I blend these cultures together and be happy with who I was?

This question would come up frequently in my everyday life. There was more than one occasion when I was spending time with friends and a simple Asian stereotype came up. “Why are all Asians so smart” or “Dang, you Asians are so good at ping pong”. While these comments were meant playfully and not meant to cause harm, they hit me differently than they had in the past. When I was back home and surrounded by people just like me, it was easy to joke about silly stereotypes. But when it was just one other person and me and the joke was about us, suddenly I didn’t feel so comfortable. I wasn’t sure why, but it felt as if this was an attack on my identity and on me personally. I did not have the same comfort level in my new environment and thus simple jokes about my identity made me question myself.

While I’ve started to become more confident with my identity and what it means to be “Asian-American” while in America, coming to China has caused me to ask an entirely different question about identity. When I am walking around the streets or entering a shop, people view me as a native Chinese person. But the moment I open my mouth, it is clear to them I am a foreigner. My lack of oral Chinese skills has created a large gap between my ancestral roots and me. I find myself longing to be able to hold a conversation with a friend or simply have an argument with a shopkeeper with making myself look illiterate. There is little more embarrassing than having someone stare at you, wondering why you can’t speak to him or her. It is as if something is wrong with me because I can’t speak my “native language”. To many people, I have the look of a Chinese person and thus should be able to express myself as a Chinese person.

So if I often feel like a minority back in America but also feel like I don’t quite belong in China, then where do I truly belong? This is something I hope to figure out. I know that learning the language will be a start to help me bridge the two cultures. Once I achieve this goal, I hope to interact with people more and continue to soak up the culture of my ancestors so that I can one day not only better understand what it means to be Asian-American, but also understand what it means to just be me.