CHINK!!!! Yeah… that”s rightâ€¦look at us with those chinky eyes! Go back to where you belong! ” Those words will forever ring in my ears. I was standing in line for lunch while talking to a friend while a couple of boys, fourth and fifth graders, were making fun of the only Asian girl in the school, me, a lonely kindergartener. I will never forget that moment when I realized that I was different. Growing up in a predominantly white community, I had never thought of the issue of race as a child. My neighbor and I were best friends, and I never thought of myself as different. She had blonde hair; I had black.Order now
She had blue eyes; I had dark brown. We loved to play with the same things, thus we were friends. It was that simple. But on that day in elementary school, my world came apart, and I will never forget it. I was different, and I didn”t know why. After those boys said that to me, I just stared in shock and got my lunch. I acted as though they had said nothing, and I was probably fortunate, considering the horrible things young boys can do. But when I went home, I cried. Why were people making fun of me? I didn”t even understand what “chink” meant. It was only the motion they made by stretching their eyes that made me understand.
I hadn”t realized that I was different from everyone else. At home I spoke Chinese and watched some Chinese movies, but I did not think that made me different. I was still a person, a human being. Did it matter that I spoke Chinese and had black hair and dark brown eyes? Apparently to some people it did matter. Every day I went to school with white children and went home to a Chinese family. For other people this was a line, a distinction that set me apart from others. For me, it defined who I was, American-born Chinese. The combination in this term was hard for me to understand.
In fact, I did not realize I was a combination until that day in the lunch line. Then, I began to question my identity. What defined me as Chinese? What defined me as American? Throughout my years in my white neighborhood I grew up as an equal among my classmates. My peers had never teased me; in fact, the incident with those older boys was the only act of prejudice I have ever experienced. Classmates were very tolerant, and so was I. Forced by circumstance, I accepted living among all white people and they with me. They became familiar with the only Asian girl in the school, and the racial issue disappeared.
I had friends and my ethnic background was not a problem. They saw my personality and saw me. I was an American. In tenth grade my AP European History teacher asked me a question that made me realize that people saw me as American. With China threatening Taiwan and its quest for independence, the United States government was questioning its own involvement in the issue. My teacher asked me, “If we went to war with China, which side would you be on? ” “The side I felt was right,” I responded without question. “No, you would side with America, because you are an American,” he curtly stated. I am American, but I am also Chinese,” I muttered gruffly. “No, you were born in America; you are American. ”
“Yes, that is true, but the blood that runs through me is Chinese. I cannot change my blood or my appearance, regardless of my upbringing,” I said with passion. Throughout our conversation, my teacher would not give up. He kept repeating that I was NOT Chinese. It made me realize that in my years at school, people thought of me only as an American. They just looked past the fact that I am Chinese. I had worried that they would treat me differently because I was Chinese, but I realized they never even questioned it.
I was American. I went to school with them. I received the same education. I was the same. After the argument with my teacher, I became more aware of my Chinese side, and I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to be Chinese, to explore my roots. My parents came to the United States for college, and they became very westernized. We do not associate with many Chinese people, even though there are some in our city, but I wanted to explore my “Chinese-ness. ” In hopes of learning Mandarin better, I attended Chinese school and hung out with some Chinese people, but I did not like them. All they cared about was Asian pride and sticking together.
I did not care about Asian pride. I did not want to like them just because they were Chinese; I wanted to like them for who they were. Yet I could not help but feel a bond among us. We spoke Mandarin, and we had similar backgrounds. Our parents had the same funny accents and expressions. Our grandmothers told us the same old wives” tales. We watched the same Chinese soap operas. We listened to the same Chinese music. There is so much that binds us together. But despite all those bonds, I did not like them. They weren”t tolerant of others. They did not like new people. Their personalities did not mesh with mine.
I began to understand why my parents avoided these Chinese people. I wanted to associate with them, to explore the Chinese part of me, but I did not like them. I broke away and hoped that in college I could explore that part of me with people more similar to me. At MIT there are a lot of Asian people, and at first I found myself gravitating toward them. I wanted to meet new people, but I wanted to explore my Chinese side so much that most of the people I ended up meeting and becoming friends with were Chinese. I even chose to live on the floor at Next House which is dubbed “Chinatown. I began to discover how it was to be Chinese. I learned who all the hot movie stars are, who the hot music celebrities are, and what cute little Sanrio things I could get. I placed myself in the Asian clique. I began to dress all in black, speak Chinese all the time, watch Chinese movies, and act Chinese. But I wasn”t happy. The only people I knew were Asian, and the more I got to know them, the more I discovered that they were like most of the people I knew from home. Before even getting to know me, they saw me as a type, as a Chinese girl, one who is smart, competitive, boy-crazy, and vain.
I did not fit into that type. Most of the Chinese girls I have known and hung out with were that type, but I was not one of them. They told me about how they hated each other, but they acted like best friends when they were around each other. The guys were very similar. On the surface they bonded and liked each other because they shared a common bond: race. Underneath it all, they did not truly like all of the people they hung out with. This is what I felt being Chinese was like, and it didn”t seem as appealing to me anymore. I recall going out one day with everyone in my group, and I looked around.
Everyone was dressed in black, except me, and we were all Chinese. We stuck together, not because we liked each other that much, but because we were Chinese. In my high school I became American, but at MIT I became Chinese. At that point I began to look around campus at the various cliques. MIT prides itself on its diversity, yet we are in fact a very segregated campus. Chinese people walk with Chinese, Indian people walk with Indians, African-American people walk with African-Americans, and Hispanic people walk with Hispanics. Very seldom do you see mixed groups walking around. Our campus is split.
We have New House, which is divided into Spanish House, German House, and Chocolate City. We have dances and functions that are specific to each race. Is this division celebrating diversity or supporting segregation? Is it celebrating a part of who we are or separating us from others? I myself sometimes feel the need to bond with those of my own ethnic background, but does it lead to lower tolerance of others? At MIT, I no longer limit my circle of friends to Chinese people. I have met new people and liked them for who they are, what their interests are, and what their passions are.
But most people stay with what they feel comfortable, and that includes race. When we associate with people outside that comfort zone, we find the unfamiliar. When I became friends with non-Chinese people, a lot of my Chinese friends began to dislike me. I was not Chinese enough to hang out with them anymore. I was different – again. My friends of various ethnicities also felt the same way. Their racial group shunned them because they associated with others outside the group. The bonds that had brought me to the Chinese people were now the bonds that separated me from them.
We are drawn to those similar to us, even in race. But where does it end? Should we become so involved in our similarities that we disregard our differences? Everyone is unique. Race is one thing that can bring people together. Yet trying to fit into the mold of our race and ignoring our individuality is what I often see happening on campus. Each group celebrates the stereotype that society has imposed on them, and instead of celebrating individuality; they celebrate the sameness of race. Living amongst white people I was initially teased because of my race, but I was more often liked and accepted for who I am.
Living amongst Chinese people, I was initially accepted because of my race,but not liked for who I am. I am an American-born Chinese. These two sides make me. Without either one, I am not complete. When I walk down the street, I can never hide the fact that I am Chinese. I cannot change my Asian features. When I talk to people and voice my opinion, I am American. Yet I do not fit completely into both sides. I am different and proud to be so. Race does not define me; I define myself. I hope for the time when we stop focusing on race and can all embrace our differences and celebrate them.