I come from a long line of proud, Chinese-born and Chinese-raised relatives, but I am the first one to be born in the United States. Despite living in a suburban Bostonian home, I was raised on scallion pancakes and rice, torturous Chinese lessons every Saturday, and stereotypical Asian values. Every dinner was a lecture about how fortunate I was not live in a poverty-stricken communist country. Grades were always held as a number one priority, even before health and sanity. My Chinese school and group of family friends were always a significant part of my life, for all the things I loved and loathed about them.
Regardless of my inclusion in an Asian community, I never felt quite connected to it. I dreaded Chinese school so much, my parents voluntary withdrew me. I refused to play piano, take drawing lessons, or join math team. I despised rice and stir-fry anything. My form of rebellion was my declaration to not apply to any Ivy Leagues. It was as if the longer I grew on Asian values around me, the more suffocated I felt. To me, being Asian was never “cool” or “fun,” because I constantly saw members of my community portrayed negatively, as uptight, geeky, and study-obsessed. I prided myself on my pure American accent, my determination to be an English major despite family disapproval, and my dedication to not staying in on Friday nights. There is a category Asians put people like that in: it’s called “white-washed,” and quite frankly, I was not disappointed to be slightly under that umbrella.
As I reflect back to my childhood though, I realize that my lifelong best friends are from my Asian community. We grew up together, spending our Saturday mornings in Chinese school instead of at playground playdates. We supported each other as we stumbled over correct “ping ying,” and speech contests every weekend. There was a certain connection created when inside jokes from Chinese school were brought up in other friend groups, especially since no one else understood why we were giggling so hard over random words that had different connotations in our minds. It was nice to feel secure at lunch time, when I was not the only one who had “jiao zi” or “bao zi.” From the “real” New Year up to Chinese New Year, no one knew why we had to spend every weekend with our families, but it felt nice to be included when we all went to the mall together afterwards with fat red envelopes to spend. Others didn’t realize that our “late night poker parties” were not actually an occasion to “turn up,” but rather a gathering of families within a culture. Though I may not have liked to admit this publicly, I actually enjoyed these parties, where we were allowed to stay up until 3AM, we were encouraged to try a variety of delicious Asian sweets, and none of our parents minded if we weren’t studying that night. Much to our ignorance at the time, this was an opportunity to gain affection for our Asian culture and kin.
All those loathsome Saturday mornings stuck in Chinese class, the bribery to get me to speak more Chinese at home—it ultimately paid off because I am quite fluent in the language now. Since I arrived at university, not a single day has passed where I have not heard Chinese somewhere around me. I can now furtively smile to myself in when I understand the language used around me. My expression of Chinese language and culture is no longer out of “obligation” to my parents or to a tangible community, but rather to myself.
At the end of the day, I’m proud of who I’ve become, even through my persistent denial of my heritage. I may not be a “typical” Asian doctor or engineer—I in many ways do not fit neatly into the boxed stereotypes of Chinese culture. However, the culture is still part of me, regardless of how much I deviate from the “norm.” Being Chinese is so inherently part of who I am, and what my values have become. At the end of the day, I’m proud.