Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chinese American in China

Throughout my life I have been a minority.

In high school, my brother and I were the only Asian Americans. In college, I was the only Asian American living on campus. In graduate school, there were a lot of Asian Americans, yet I still felt like an outsider. Even if I look like other Asian Americans, I am not in touch with my ethnic heritage, my ethnically labeled culture. I was raised in a white American family, as an adopted Chinese daughter.

In Africa, I was the foreigner who got many stares and an occasional, "Hee haw." It was a greeting that became popular due to a West African comedian and a song that says hello in like 100 different languages. "Ni hao" had become "Hee Haw;" although, in Dakar, because of the many Chinese merchants, "Ni hao" was correctly said.

It is a confusing conundrum for me. I look Asian but I am not Asian. I have lived in many environments where I am the only Asian, where my uniqueness comes from the color of my skin and the blackness of my hair. But that physical label doesn't really say anything about me.

Now I am in China. I am Chinese in China. I look like everyone else. I am Chinese until I open my mouth. Even when people especially the older people hear my terrible Chinese, they hold fast to their idea that I am Chinese. Younger people nod in understanding when I say I am American Chinese. They are more aware of the huge population of Chinese in the USA.

Here in China, walking around silent, I am not unique unless I wear an African outfit, then I get stares like back in America when I shaved my head and dyed it pink. Walking around anonymous, part of the crowd I feel a sense of belonging, a sense of community rather than being an outsider. But as soon as I open my mouth, I become a curiosity and a center of attention. I become the outsider.

So who am I? To Chinese, I am Chinese because of my physical features. To Americans, I am Chinese American because of my cultural upbringing. To myself? I am an American who cannot run away from her skin color and it is my physical features that confuse me the most.

I was hoping to find answers in China.
Instead, I only find more questions.

How do I connect to my ethnic heritage? If I start acting Chinese, copying the customs and mannerisms of the population, will I become Chinese? Where do I belong? I often struggle with the idea of wanting to belong yet also wanting to be different, to be that outsider who is unique but who also has a community. Yet in my search for community, I instead find the solitude of an outsider.

Maybe the answer is as simple as, I belong with my own personal community of friends who don't think about my skin color or my cultural background. They just see me, their friend.

As a roamer from country to country, from culture to culture, I am a chameleon who can change to fit into my surroundings. Even if it may appear on the outside that I fit in, that I am the green of a tree or the brown of a wall, I am a lizard on the inside. The question is who is that lizard?


Daniel said...

very cool blog.
Yu belong to the world.


furth3r said...

u r a citizen of planet earth...just like me. wander until your soul tells you to rest...but please rest back in the states.