When I visited my hometown last week, I took my daughters to see my school. I went to a very large school and graduated with over 600 students. We lived in an upstate NY suburb and I was one of a handful of Asians in my high school. I had 2 identities and an identity crisis. I was Chinese at home, at Chinese school on Sunday, and in Chinatown visiting my family. I was American everywhere else. American to me back then were my White friends, food like pizza and hamburgers, holidays like Halloween and July 4th. I didn’t feel like I fit into the Chinese or American community. I was a Chinese American girl who looked Chinese, didn’t speak Chinese and had all American friends.
I felt less different when I kept my two lives separate. When I met my junior high school guidance counselor she asked me if I was ever discriminated against because I was Chinese. She made me hate being Chinese that day. For any teenager, high school can be a hard place to fit in. For a Chinese American girl trying to fit in with her American friends, I took it to another level and drank too much alcohol at parties, bullied other girls, and dated the wrong guys. It wasn’t right and I owe many apologies.
As hard as high school was, I would not have changed a thing. If it weren’t for those uncomfortable times, I would not be the person I am today. In high school, I would have turned the other way if I saw one of the other 4 Asians in the school hallway. Today, I still don’t speak Chinese fluently but I am a part of great Chinese and Asian communities. I married a Chinese American man and thankfully Grouchy Husband isn’t like any of those terrible guys I dated in high school. We live in a community with over 30% Asians. My daughters go to Chinese school every week. I am always thinking about how to bring Chinese culture into their lives.
If I could tell my 15-year-old self three things they would be (1) You are Chinese and American. Both are by themselves awesome and together they make you amazing. (2) No matter how you look or weird food you eat or different language you speak, your friends like you because of the kind, genuine, funny person you are. (3) It is “cool” to get good grades and play the piano.
Cheers to High School,
The Dumpling Mama xo