Who am I?
Sometimes I wonder about my identity.
As a Chinese person who moved to New York City when I was 13, I often doubt about my nationality. Living under an American environment while speaking Cantonese Chinese at home and sometimes Mandarin Chinese with friends, and, of course, English in School, who do I consider myself as?
Calling myself as a “Chinese immigrant” is rather old fashion and harsh, and I am praying that the term doesn’t remind you of the immigrants who worked for the transcontinental railroads hundreds of years ago. But how about Chinese American? However, I was not born in the U.S. nor am I an American but just a permanent resident. Still calling myself a Chinese? But I stay in the U.S. legally, doesn’t that mean something? A Chinese permanent U.S. resident? That’s so long! Would you really tell that to all your friends???
I think a person’s identity cannot be simply defined by their official nationality. It’s a tricky topic to be tackled on, because, like my life journey, it’s full of complexity. There are those who hold an American passport but doesn’t speak a word in English, and there are those with not even a green card doing copy-edits for the New York Times and knowing more about the American culture than typical Americans.
Now comes the real confession:
Throughout the past 8 years since I have been in the U.S., I have been afraid how others would label me. Afraid of being labeled as a FOB (fresh off the boat,) or being labeled that English was my second language. I even change what I do everyday to force myself to become “the American;” for example, Netflix instead of Asian dramas and Spotify instead of Chinese songs. It has gotten extreme when I would hide my phone when I text to my friends in Chinese, I purposely lower my voice when I talk in Chinese in the public, and look away when I tell others that I hold a green card. Forcing myself to see trendy topics on twitter no matter how much I hate caring about Jay Z, Kanye and Beyoncé, just so that I have common topics with others. I tell others that “I grew up speaking both English and Chinese (have to put English ahead of the sentence,) so fuck off when you ever have the doubt that I am a FOB. You mask your true self, but what does that do? When you say you are from New York, does it stop people from asking you where you originally from? When you keep stressing that you are American that you are a New Yorker that you are like everybody else in New York, does the bottom of your heart ever echo: “liar.”
But, is being an immigrant really that bad at all? Why would you ever hate being labeled as Chinese? The answer to this can go on forever and forever. However, after moving to Paris to study abroad, I realized that, all the white wash things I have done to make myself becoming an American, vanishes into the air to become nothing. Here in Paris, no one really cares how much you know about the American politics, how well you speak your English, or how much American things you have done to blend yourself in. The world is so, so much bigger than what goes around in New York. If I were to stay in France for the rest of my life, will I repeat all that torturing white wash procedure on myself again and blame on myself because I wasn’t raised watching Les Aventures de Tintin? Probably not. In fact, I have been calling, more like confessing, myself as someone “who belongs to the world” since I got here. By this, I tell others I was born in China, half raised in New York, and am interested in all types of culture on this planet. For my nationality, I call myself a Chinese New Yorker, kind of a cooler version of “a Chinese permanent U.S. resident.” In fact, when I met other internationals and open-minded French people, I found out that they not only wouldn’t judge my crappy French, but they would also appreciate my birth place and my life journey more than I myself ever did.
You are who you are, and if there are those who judge you based on the stereotypes, they are just close-minded and superficial. Those who cherish you are those who understand your life experience.
Of course, my opinion on forcing yourself to blend in is neutral. I think that one should really blend into those around and the atmosphere they are in. If you still carry your way of life into the new environment, you are in a bubble that never bursts. It is a bubble that blocks you from learning from the new environment and cuts you off from contacting your place of originality. I have had an extreme friend who was super nationalistic about his country and called all Americans “white trash,” simply because he could not accept the way they drink and they spend their money (this happened when I was in London.) He would deride other Americans in front of them and would not at all hang out with them. This is way too extreme and self-centered, and this person would definitely be a FOB labeler for his own culture. My opinion is that one should try their best to blend in to those they are with, but nobody should be denying their past and their real identity.
Sometimes people ask: what does it feel like being a FOB for the second time? I think: “it actually feels great! Because I get the chance to be exposed to another culture while you still stay in your comfort zone. I am a FOB and I am proud of it.” And hey! Look who’s calling others “FOB!” Those still resting in their comfort zone being super nationalistic and denying other invaders. Because this term “FOB”, does not exist among those have been out there around the world. If you are calling me a FOB and don’t want to hang out with me, fine! There are those who have been around the world that would appreciate me.
To those who label others as FOBs, open your eyes, because the world is so much bigger than what’s going on around you. You have to have been on this journey in order to understand what kind of a stress the internationals live under, and it is the stress that shapes them to become their greater selves.
You really have to accept who you are, before becoming who you strive to be. And in my case, I strive to become an international person knowing as much about different culture on earth as possible.
Until next time!