When I was really young, I remember being told that being Chinese was something special. It not only reflects in your face but in every part of who you are. Being young, I didn’t care. I wanted to be like all the other kids – white, rich, blonde, whatever. I just didn’t want to be Chinese because I was ashamed. I was made to feel like my black hair and small eyes were something undesirable and lowly.
I don’t think I have to go back very far to remember a time when I cried because I was being made fun of. I am Chinese, so I eat funny food and my parents listen to strange music. I am Chinese, so I talk in a language that sounds weird.
I couldn’t always put my head around it, but I have always felt as if I existed in two worlds. Sometimes it feels like I have two ropes tied to me – one keeping me firmly grounded in one place and another always pulling me back. It pulls me back to memories of my family, of farmers working in the fields, of erhu music and jiao zi – of a history so deep and rich I could never understand it. It reminds me that Chinese people are supposed to eat the wind and swallow bitterness but that sometimes, that bitterness is too much to bear.
Growing up in America, I always thought I’d be defined by what I did and not by what my face looked like, but as I get older, I realize how much being Chinese has shaped who I am – like an indelible ink mark on a blank canvas. I regret how I behaved as a child because now I embrace the culture and the people who are a part of me, no matter where I am.
As I reflect on those lost this past week, I am lost in a sea of sadness. I am beleaguered by a darkness that feels so heavy upon my shoulders. I am also uplifted by the knowledge that even where there is night, there are also dreams.
I am Chinese.
*Monday begins the official mourning period for those lost in Sichuan. If you want to help, go to www.redcross.org.cn