Immigrant children are vital cultural links

By Wendy Min Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/15 21:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Not every second-generation immigrant would feel confused about their identity. However, almost every one of them will ponder on the issue of identity at some point in their lives and make their own decision on whether or not to address it and search for that connection. Feeling lost and conflicted is especially true if they start school in their respective new countries and are faced with the not-so-kind side of growing up.

While some might clash culturally with their parents and engage in this tug of war of keeping the old language and connecting with a "distant" culture, I had never gone through that.

Looking back, debates that I've had with my parents were always about some major political event or travelling or issues concerning another culture that falls out of the three (China-Australia-France). The home environment facilitated my interest in learning languages and new cultures and solidified the importance of being "very global" in this ever changing world. I was comfortable with that because it was simple. However, externally, I found myself on the battle fields trying to fend off enemies and myself.

Schoolyard bullying was multilayered, diverse and a weekly occurrence. The ugly scar on my left knee is a beautiful reminder of one such episode in third grade when after failing to seek refuge in the toilets, I was dragged out, chased and then pushed for being that new Asian kid on the block who spoke minimal English. I'll never forget being in tears while kids chanted "Go back to China…Go back to China!"

High school was slightly better since reasons for bullying became more about socio-economic status and physical appearances. However, words like "chink" and other racist slurs still echoed throughout the playground.

Studying in France was like unwillingly participating in a comedy show. Having people make the slit-eye gesture and then say "Tu l'as vole ton passeport? parce que tu as un visage asiatique (Did you steal your passport? Because you have an Asian face)" is not exactly smart comedy.

During my last trip to Australia in January 2016, two young men at a car park bluntly reminded me to "speak English since you are in Australia."

If I thought that going back to China and looking Chinese would mean that I'd be shielded from these negative remarks, then I would be wrong. Comments have been made about why I'm back in China? and you are a fake Chinese, what do you know? Such assumptions and misunderstandings are common in China given its provinces, regions and ethnic makeup.

When you have a look that doesn't match your passport or the outlook on life and behavior that does not align with that particular culture, then you are reminded about this difference. Not one country is immune against "phobia," "invasion" and "negative energy," let alone an individual. Whether this target is directed internally or inflicted externally, there is always a group of people who confuse the justification of their discrimination with their undying nationalism and lack of common sense.

Ever since second grade, questions were raised by others and by myself about who I am? What is Australian? What is Chinese? What is identity? What is nationality? These self-questionings, like discrimination, lay dormant and are awakened by changes in location and the unfortunate encounter with some not-so-adorable folks.

Being able to live on three continents and having such wonderful childhood memories only reaffirmed my desire and interest in becoming a world citizen. It is a rare opportunity to have early exposure to the good and bad of every culture as well as to hold onto whatever snippets of culture that make its mark in one's life.

Once upon a time, I envy those who don't pause and ponder what kind of answer to give when they are asked simple questions like "What is your name?" and "Where are you from?" I would exclaim, "Why me! First they say I'm white-washed then they say I'm not white enough. What does this mean? I'm always on No Man's Land!" I'm happy to have two names.

Now, I'm thankful that I was raised with different cultures, identities and languages by my side since the world is more globalized than before and we need to be hybrids or that bridge between various cultures.

The author is a freelance writer. She was born in China, raised in Australia, educated in China, Australia and France. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus