West Nyack: a small suburban town in New York with a population that is 75.5% white. Growing up there, I so desperately wanted to abandon being an Asian-American for that majority. My parents immigrated from China in their early 20s in pursuit of the American Dream. My brother and I are the first ones in our entire family born in America. While my brother openly embraced the cultural differences from his peers, I always tried to hide that part of me.
Ever since I was little, I despised being a minority.
I attended schools that were predominantly white, and I so desperately wanted to be like everybody else. I tried to hide the Chinese part of me and fully embraced American culture.
On top of that, I hated eating the Chinese food my mother would cook and would instead want to eat spaghetti or macaroni and cheese. I was embarrassed when my mom packed dumplings for lunch instead of a peanut butter sandwich. From time to time, I found myself comparing my parents to my friend’s American parents.
I hated that my mom would be so strict on me when it came to curfews. Lastly, I hated that my mom would question why I had gotten a B on a test and not an A and most of all I hated that my mom would make me attend Chinese school on Sunday mornings. When the weekend came along, my friends would make plans for a Saturday night sleepover or a late-night movie at the mall. I was never allowed to go out Saturday nights and stay out late because the next morning I had to be up for Chinese school.
In my household, since English is their second language, my parents would always speak to my brother and me in Chinese. My brother who had always embraced our culture would speak back in Chinese. I refused to speak Chinese at home and especially would not speak it in public and would simply respond to my parents in English. To me, being heard speaking Chinese by other people was incredibly embarrassing. I did not want other people to look at me differently when they heard me speaking a language that sounded so strange.
The worst part was I would also get frustrated when my mom would have trouble communicating with people in public due to English being her second language and all. This language barrier, for some reason, was one of the most infuriating things to me. I hated the fact that when my mom spoke English it was always overshadowed by a thick Chinese accent. Overall, I just did not want to be Chinese at all.
As a 20-year-old in college now, I look back at who I was in the past and it hurts to see how embarrassed of my own culture I was. Being able to grow up with two different cultures is such a privilege I regret so much that I did not open myself to this beautiful culture at a younger age. I wish that I had spoken Chinese more in the past as my speaking skills would be so much better today.
However, now I look for every opportunity now to proudly represent who I really am. I chose to minor in the Chinese language in college to really learn as much as I could about the culture while also perfecting my Chinese speaking, writing and reading skills. I love sharing with my friends my mom’s amazing cooking.
It was a consensus that my mom’s dumplings were some of the best anyone had ever tried.
In public, I try to help my mom if she is struggling with understanding something someone is saying in English. I proudly translate things from English to Chinese for her without caring if other people are looking at me. Being able to speak two languages is such a blessing and it’s a skill that most people don’t have the opportunity to have.
I also realized the reason why my mom was so strict with grades and always expected the best from me. My parents immigrated to America so that my brother and I could have a better life and more opportunities. Education is also what allowed my parents to immigrate here. My dad grew up in a tiny town in Inner Mongolia with little to no money. He knew that education was the single thing that would improve his life and really get him to where he wanted to be. He was able to move to America because of the hard work he put into his education. Eventually, he was able to attend Ohio State University and obtain a Ph.D. This was why my parents wanted me to get A’s in school because of all the opportunities education offered them.
Over the years, I truly have learned to embrace being a minority. There is no need for anyone to ever feel ashamed about who they are. Diversity and different cultures should be something that people celebrate and not try to hide. I wish I could tell younger me that different is beautiful. I am so proud to have grown up as an Asian-American and would not wish for it to be any other way.