When I was young, I was told by my father “you must not forget who you are.” I thought he meant I shouldn’t forget that I was Chinese, and I laughed back at his words.
I mean, how could I forget who I am? I’m Chinese, I was born in China, and I have a Chinese passport.
And then one day, on the way home from kindergarten, I was suddenly stripped from my homeland, away from my grandma’s warm arms, and sent to a faraway nation right off on a plane the next day, where people spoke a language I knew nothing of. I was four years old back then.
I spent the next six years immersed in a foreign culture that I thought I belonged to. I was—I mean, I still am—a Kiwi, and somehow over time I convinced myself that New Zealand was my actual homeland. I spoke, I read, I wrote English, and Mandarin to me was just a tool I had to master in speaking in order to communicate at home.
And just as I was about to fully embrace the New Zealander culture, I was again sent off on a plane, just like it was six years before, to another “foreign” country I had now grown unfamiliar with. I was ten years old.
I was sent back to China under my parents’ orders to relearn Chinese, for I was told to be ashamed of myself for forgetting my mother language. I was confused—I mean, but I spoke English better than Mandarin, and I couldn’t even recognize those oddly-shaped characters. How can that be my mother language?
And then somehow my father’s words came back to me, when a long, long time ago he once said, “You must not forget who you are,” and I laughed back at his words.
To be honest, I was suffering to fit in at first. For my whole lifetime I had learned English from a British background, and yet my parents put me into an international school that utilized 100% American textbooks, and that meant “culture-shock.” Culture shock as in, when I raised my hand in class to ask for a piece of rubber, and people would think I literally meant a piece of that black hard thing you have on car tires, or when I offered lollies and they thought I meant LOL, or that traumatizing moment when I heard everyone around me including the teachers pronouncing can’t as “can’t”, instead of “cahn’t.” It’s sad to mention, but I finally lost that one last British accent of pronouncing I “cahn’t” just recently—probably about a year ago.
For all of my lifetime, I have not only shifted cultures once in a while, but also constantly moved around. I have moved into eight different houses in total, counting in an upcoming ninth time in June. Sometimes I really feel like a nomadic person--or maybe even the nomads were better than me, at least they got to sleep in the same tents and ride the same horses, know the same neighborhoods, you know. I never got to remember any of my neighbors’ names.
So coming to the U.S was just like another “daily lifetime routine” for me—I mean it did impact my last three years deeply, but when my mom announced it at the dinner table when we were still in China, it was just like a casual grocery shopping invitation when she said, “We’re going to move to the US!” and I was like, “Okay mom!”
And how much did this constant moving around impact my social life? The answer is, severely deep.
I had close friends when I was in New Zealand, but they were the minorities of the whole grade. I still remember on the day when I left for China, I called my friend and asked her, “How are everyone’s reaction to my sudden transferring?” and she replied, “They celebrated it!” I didn’t cry, but I remained silent throughout the whole plane ride. Luckily, it was better when I came over to the US from China. People probably still celebrated it because I had a personality that stood out a little too much back then, but my best friends insisted on staying in touch, which I am deeply grateful for even until today. They’re in college right now, and I’m still a high school student, but that doesn’t make any difference among us. I used to avoid talking about this subject, because I felt ashamed having to retake my sophomore year, which probably became the worst time of my life.
Transferring back and forth among schools isn’t fun; I didn’t have a stable friendship I could rely on, or anyone to talk to. I suffered severe depression, my grades dropped to C’s, I locked myself in my room every day after coming home from school, and I constantly cried. Leaving RHP briefly really wasn’t a wise choice, and I’m glad I realized that before it was too late. But I’m also glad for being able to go through all the pain, because all of that had turned to experience that was vital for me to grow up and mature, and to become who I am today.
And I'm truly thankful for all my friends and the people who have accepted me when I first came back in my junior year; If it was not for their acceptance, I may not have even ended up here, right now, this second, giving my speech.
When people ask me where do you come from, I used to have a hard time explaining, because I would hesitate between answering Chinese or Kiwi, and if I answered Chinese, they would ask me, oh from what district? And that would silence me completely, because I had no idea how to answer it—the city I lived in the longest, the city I was born in, and the city I registered with permanent residence are three completely different places, so in the end I just give up and say, “I’m just Chinese.”
But now if somehow would ask me to identify myself, I would… probably still come up with the same answer and the same difficulties explaining, but what’s different is that, I’ll know it’s not the country where I grew up in that’ll define me, but who I define myself as. Thank you.Click here to view full video