I am an ABC, an “American-Born Chinese.” My parents were born in China, but I was born in California.
California has long had a vibrant Asian population; I blissfully grew up in an Asian bubble. Kids did not tease me on the playground nor did they pull the corner of their eyes while chanting pseudo-Chinese sounding words.
The dichotomy that many Asian-Americans expressed while growing up somewhat baffled me: I couldn’t relate to the hardships they faced in trying to become “more American.” I did not understand why they would feel embarrassed to use chopsticks in public, or why they would opt for the “all-American” burger or slice of pizza at lunchtime. I was not ashamed of my Chinese heritage and I openly practiced them without the need to hide my roots. I used chopsticks along with forks and knives in the same meal; I added wasabi peas to trail mix and brought it to school for snack time. For lunch, I ate chow mein with hot dog bits.
I felt that my Chinese practices and American practices seamlessly fused together. Growing up, I did not push aside the Chinese side of myself.
But I wanted to.
It would mean leaving behind the discipline and pragmatism. My parents avoided all frivolous expenditure that they believe would distract me from my studies. They saw vacations as something that would divert my focus from school and make me long for “fun”, so I stayed home during school breaks and learned the multiplication tables instead of going to Disneyland. I did not have stuffed animals or game consoles: such toys had no place in our household. Nor did I have jewelry and accessories. My parents were not going to encourage me to be some flirty “party girl” who cared more for fun than academics.
That goes to say, I did not enjoy the themes of the American “coming to age” culture: sleepovers, parties, dating. I wanted my childhood to be about the whims and enjoyments that categorize mainstream American youth, but it was an unrequited fascination.
Yet, I don’t resent my upbringing, though I do wonder whether I would be the person I am today without it. Would I still have the habit of compromising more than I should? Would I be more vocal with my thoughts and opinions? Would a more liberal upbringing have made me more self-confident? Would I still have had my eating disorder?
I know that I am who I am today because of my parents and how they raised me. I am grateful for my family and for the part they have played in making me the person I am proud to be today, shortcomings and all.