There was someone in the street who yelled, “Go back to your country!” And I remember thinking, “This is my country…” I think I was 11 years old. I think I just grew up with so much shame around being Chinese because when I was little people would pull their eyes and say stupid stuff. And always ask me why my English was so good. And one time I threw away my lunch because I was ashamed that I had Chinese food and to this day I regret it and I should say sorry to my parents. Because that is a big thing in Chinese culture – you don’t waste food, ever. So, like to throw it away was very bad, it’s a really bad thing.
I don’t think there was an obvious or specific time when a white person said to me, “I’m better than you,” but me feeling inferior is something I’ve internalized my whole life. Where did this idea come from? Maybe it’s because all the movies and stories were about them and I read their history so I think I just always thought, Oh, I need to fit into this piece of the world that I landed in. I was born in America but maybe I’m supposed to play a supporting role in this bigger narrative of who Americans are and I’m just fortunate to be part of the diversity of it. It’s really interesting because I think it’s just so, so subtle that we don’t really know how this happens. Because even Allen would tell me when we were dating, “I think I feel like you deserve to be with a white person, like someone better than me”, and I was like, “Allen, there’s no one better than you!” For my friends who dated white people, I would think “Oh, you landed a white guy! Oh, you’re better! You dated outside our culture, you transcended our culture…. You did better.” But now, I don’t think that anymore.
…now I say I’m a third generation Chinese American based in Los Angeles. I think including Chinese American is an important part of my identity because for so long, we wanted to have this colorblind cartoon and be like, “people are people.” And now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying where you came from 1) so that no one has to ask you what you are. And 2) because it’s okay to say that. It carries meaning. By claiming Chinese American as part of my identity, it gives people an opportunity to know me as an individual that they can place along with all their other ideas about who Chinese American people are. I think that helps sometimes for cultures not to be monoliths anymore. I’m hopeful, thoughtful, caring, creative, (which is a word that I couldn’t own for a long time, almost like I needed other people to tell me that I was creative). It was almost a badge of honor that I couldn’t wear unless someone else put it on me. I’m spiritual, a good friend, a good listener.
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‘Indivisible’ is an ongoing portrait and interview project, sharing the stories of racism and identity formation.
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