As I was watching an intense swimming round in the Olympics the other day with my family, my mom suddenly asked me: “Which country are you rooting for?” I looked at her, confused for a minute, and replied: “Uh…USA of course. Who else?” To which she said: “Oh, what about the Chinese?”
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that my mom was cheering when the Chinese swimmer won gold, but I never before realized that I have never questioned which country I “belonged” to. So easily, I identify as American, although I am of 100% Chinese descent. I mean, I look 100% Chinese, I technically am 100% Chinese, and I check the “Asian/Pacific Islanders” box on forms, but I still see myself as an American at heart and in my mindset. I guess it’s just another one of those labels with which society tends to organize people; it’s easier to look than to understand.
While writing this post, I’ve found it difficult to express this feeling of “split identities” (it’s taken me about 30 minutes just to formulate the last 2 paragraphs), because I don’t think I quite understand yet. The conversation with my mom somehow inspired me to think about this though, so I’m just putting out observations and trying to come to as many conclusions as I can. Bear with me.
I know that although I see myself as an American through and through, I’m still quite not sure what that means. What are those fundamental ideals that make me American? We have long celebrated our notions of freedom and equality here in the States, but I think that viewing those values as uniquely “American” is a bit outdated by now. Many other countries have the same luxuries we have, and we must also consider how much “freedom” is too much, and when that will begin affecting our social well-being. Regardless, I do know that I’m proud to be both American and Chinese, because I still cherish and keep close my Chinese heritage, yet I feel loyal to my home country. I am certain that my way of looking at life and future experiences will be heavily influenced by my Chinese upbringing though, so being Chinese still plays a huge role in my life.
Another observation I have is that whenever I visit China, I don’t feel quite at home. And as a child, it used to bother me a lot, because I saw how happy my parents were because it was home to them. And what made it more difficult was that I looked like I should belong. And now that I think about it, I realize that what defines the US is truly the “melting pot,” so to speak. Here, although the majority is still Caucasian, I don’t feel misplaced just based on what race I’m perceived to be. I don’t see race as a fundamental difference here, but that may be due to my rather privileged and sheltered upbringing.
And it’s interesting, because my best friend is half Asian, half Caucasian, but she identifies much more with her Asian side. I find her philosophies, emotional thinking, even her artwork (she’s an amazing artist) distinctively belonging to a more eastern culture. And she says that when she’s in Taiwan, she feels at home and peaceful, which is starkly different than my experiences. I’m not sure why that is, but I feel that both of us are quite lucky to be able to have such a strong sense of self that we’re able to craft our own “cultural identity” by using more than just race as an influence.