Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin
cswallow

Week 2: Hunchun, Pt 2

When I came to China for the first time, some 9 years ago, I remember feeling more Chinese-American here than I ever did in the States. In the US I never had any crisis of identity; I was good at English, and I grew up in an area with many Asian-Americans, and so I felt normal.  Well, as normal as I could have hoped for, anyway.

Here, I am two halves of different people. I am reminded of it again and again, for any conversation with a local inevitably involves the phrase, "She's American? She looks like a Chinese person."  Last week the restaurant owner looks at Tony, who is from QingDao and says, "You look like a foreigner" before turning to me, "SHE'S the Chinese."  In another incident, Joshua was having trouble ordering, and the waiter turns to me, demanding "Why don't you translate for him?"

I can blend in here, but only if I am silent. I can stand out here, but because of my voice and not my words.

Who am I? I start to wonder. If I look Chinese but am not, if they accept me as Chinese but I do not accept myself as such, who do I become?

My grandparents left this country because they sought a better life for themselves and their children in America. Here I am, returned and uneasy. When the locals hear my background, that my grandparents were from here but my parents were born in America, I can see them grudgingly accepting me. I am almost one of them. But when I speak, they refer to me in the 3rd person as they do with almost all foreigners, "she speaks pretty well."

Half of me thinks I could fit in here if only I worked fiercely at my Chinese skills. Half of me thinks I'll never be truly good enough to do as well in China as I've done in the States. And yet, I also feel more normal here, less harried, and very much focused on the people around me.

But I think if I am half of everything, I am not fully anything. And so I am, unwillingly, incomplete.
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