By: Victoria Mao, 11th Grade
The following talk was given at the recent Heritage Dinner.
For the most of my life I have rejected my Chinese heritage. I wanted to believe that I was an all-American kid just like the other children who went to my school. I pretended that my eyes weren’t almond-shaped, and at the toy store I bought the Barbies with the blondest hair and the bluest eyes. Unfortunately, there were also times where I actively resented having a Chinese heritage.
I guess that it all started with the workshops. When I was a child my mother used to bring me, or should I say drag me, to adoption workshops that were presented by Families with Children from China in NYC. I absolutely despised going to these workshops. In my seven-year old mind I was American, through and through. The fact that I was born in China was irrelevant to my life. I will always remember how uncomfortable I felt being in a room full of adopted Chinese girls. Ironically, I viewed myself as different from them and more like my Caucasian friends at home. This feeling would lead me to always say no when my mother offered to bring my sister and me to Chinese New Year celebrations and other events run by FCC. I had no interest in ribbon dancing and calligraphy – I’d rather sleep over at my friend’s house where I got to eat pizza and watch Disney Channel.
Later, my rejection of my Chinese heritage was further strengthened when my parents signed me up for Chinese School on Sunday afternoons. They wanted me to learn Mandarin for it would expose me a little more to my Chinese heritage. Needless to say, as a ten-year-old the last thing that I wanted to do was be in another classroom doing more work and learning a language I would never speak with my friends. The hours I spent at Chinese school from second grade to sixth grade only augmented my distaste for being Chinese.
Finally, I’d have to say that the last thing that brought me to reject my Chinese heritage was the stereotypes I had to deal with during middle school. I wasn’t necessarily bullied in school, but I was exposed to racist comments which had the power to be just as cutting. Things such as “Of course she’s good at math, she’s Asian!” and comments on photos with someone squinting reading “Wow, you look so Asian!” were trivial, but built up over time. I even had someone come up to me once and say “You speak English really well!” Comments such as these angered me. Of course I spoke English well; I had lived in America since I was a one-year-old!
Unfortunately, these types of negative experiences caused me to associate my anger at the perpetrators with my being Chinese. I came to believe that if I weren’t Chinese I wouldn’t have to deal with these things. I wouldn’t feel like an outsider and everything would be easier.
I’m glad to say that my attitude towards my heritage has changed as I have grown up. Although I am not gung ho Chinese (my favorite clothing store is J.Crew and Starbucks is practically my watering hole), I do appreciate some things that my heritage has given me; most importantly, my relationship with my cousins. In Chinese culture there is an emphasis on extended family connections. I have grown up going to dinners which include newborn cousins to great aunts who are ninety years plus. Through these dinners and other get-togethers, I have created life-long bonds.
In addition, I have found myself more interested in the Chinese culture than I used to be. This started with my family’s trip to China last winter. While in China I learned that China’s role in the world as a major player was just beginning. It was interesting to see the liveliness of the people in China’s cities. Along with a flourishing culture that has lasted for thousands of years, I could feel China’s reach for the future in its people. People moved in masses like honey bees to get to their jobs and all seemed to have a sense of ambition. I am curious to see how China’s culture is going to be spread throughout the world as China maintains its major role on world stage. Will I eat Chinese food in places that I didn’t used to? Will I see modern Chinese artwork valued in European art galleries?
The most intriguing question to me, however, is what role will my generation of children adopted from China play in the future. There are about 50,000 children adopted from China currently in the United States. Today, the number of adoptions from China has significantly decreased. When my parents adopted me in 1994 it took five weeks to get matched with me. Now the wait to adopt is over 4 years. I am a member of a generation that obviously will have limits. How will we fit into the story of US immigration in the future? Will we contribute to America’s role on the world stage or will we contribute to China’s? Or, will we be the bridge between the two?