…But where are you really from?

So I get this annoying question, a lot, and not just from white people.

I’m a Chinese-American born to immigrant parents. I went to public school. Was never forced to go to Chinese school. My parents worked a lot. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me. But along the way, I’ve learned to speak English a lot more than Cantonese.

When your parents aren’t the most talkative people, and were always working to provide a better life for you, staying in touch with your roots can be difficult.

Going to an American public school, as any normal child, I attempted to fit in. Unfortunately, in the process, it meant speaking English and only that. And you know how kids can be cruel – I still got called names for being Chinese. You know how the kids pulled the corners of their eyes up to mimic an Asian person and mocked the language. Yup. That happened to me in 1st grade… It started young. And unfortunately I wasn’t wired to let it not affect me. It did. I internalized everything.

Anyways, enough about that. But the point of this post was to provide my perspective and see how many others relate.

Have you ever had somebody of the same race immediately start speaking the native language, just assuming you speak it? And then there’s this horrible awkward moment when you tell them you don’t speak the language of your ancestors and they either laugh at you or give you a disapproving look? Or when you’re just talking to someone, whether they be Asian, white, etc., as yourself in plain old English, and they ask you where you’re really from? Like telling them being born in America is just not a legit answer?

And another thing that I’ve learned really annoys the hell out of me: When a white person admonishes you for not knowing how to speak your own language. Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t hear you speaking Gaelic from your Irish roots…

So I don’t think there is any way to really reconcile these issues. I’m sure I’m not, but I’ve always felt alone about this. Other Asians I know seem to be completely content with themselves. But they are surrounded by an Asian community of their friends and family. My closest group of friends are not Asian. My husband is a Jewish-American. Maybe that’s the difference? But I love the diversity of the community I’ve chosen to surround myself with.

I just need to learn to be okay with me and speak up for myself. I am my own person and not identified by what others think I should be. All I can do is continue being the kind, empathetic person that I am.

How about you? Do you have similar feelings/issues? How do you deal with it?

And BTW, happy mother’s day to all the mothers out there!