F**k, I’m American见鬼，我是美国人！
Sure, culture shock happens on both sides of a shore.没错，文化冲击在大洋两岸都会发生
“Never go to China! You have no idea how dangerous China is. Promise me you will not go!” Having grown up Chinese in America, I attracted a lot of speculation about what China and Chinese people are supposed to be like. It’s as if people merely fill in a blank with any answers they presume appropriate. Although, this time, it was my Chinese mother who said this, and she was born and raised in China with pride and apparently fear of the China she once knew and left. The China that probably doesn’t exist anymore.
Maybe it was for rebellion that I am here today.
This was during China’s national lockdown where street riots and racial violence against Chinese and other Asian groups (mistaken for being Chinese) were rising outside of China, and in my home, San Francisco.
If only it was that easy to “just stay here”, but was I looking for a second home, a home away from home? Or peace?
“你是美国人，是吗？告诉我哪个国家更好？美国还是中国?” It got to where I wanted to avoid telling people I’m American. Ironically, this desire to lie about my identity is the same living in America, having to face questions like, “So what are you?” (As if ‘human’ wasn’t enough) “Where are you originally from?” (As if ‘I’ migrated) and “What are you originally?” (As if I somehow ‘changed’ races). Because in America, I cannot be American-I am Chinese, no matter how little I knew the Chinese language, the country and culture-and with the label ‘Chinese’ comes along all what people think of China and Chinese people, no matter how ignorant we both are. It’s a bit funny how I’m ‘Chinese’ in America, and ‘American’ in China. Like my Hash name, I seem to be ‘in the f**king middle’.
My parents left China and returned as visitors only to find the streets of their hometown they grew up in, WeChat, and even the simplified written Chinese unrecognizable. They shared many wonders we foreigners have today like the driving style and why people suddenly stop walking once on an escalator. It was surreal to watch my Chinese parents be such strangers in their own home country.
Maybe losing our original form is what the ‘melting’ means in the ‘melting pot of America’, especially in San Francisco, which is a beautifully diverse city, much like a city of several different countries weaved together through hilly streets. It is where many have ‘left their hearts in’ and fallen in love many times over as the city transforms with each decade. San Francisco is what I understood as a ‘melting pot’ when I first learned this term.
Although, despite how mesmerizing the image of many colors (nations) swirling and blending may be, it is not a ‘melting pot’. To me, the diversity of San Francisco is more like a mosaic; still beautiful but made from broken glass that was once something whole; now, in shards, sharp with a clear separation between each piece.
“Go back to China! You are not welcomed here.” I wonder if these people who hold such intolerance would still bark this rude ejection like a damnation if they saw the real China.
Life in China is almost like a paradise, tranquil and safe. Where else could I leave my valuables out in a public space, leave, and come back only to find nothing stolen or vandalized; or walk freely any time of day without such worry for myself as well. People here have kindness and patience, many of whom would bend over backwards to help if I needed it. There is a great sense of community, one that is empathetic, and curious but hardly ever judging. I have felt so much freedom in China, more than I ever felt before, and I’m from the US, the supposed ‘land of the free’.
So “go back to China”? Sure, I’d love to, and maybe you should, too!
“你是哪个国家的呢? 只是，你的感觉不像中国人…” They’re probably right. Culturally, I am an early ‘90’s baby’ growing up watching Saturday morning cartoons in my underwear while hoarding a stash of candy like prison money. I listened to N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys, which I remember us girls having a crush on Aaron and Nick Carter and wished my strict parents would let me go to a slumber party where typical pre-teen girls would paint each other’s nails, do our hair, and plan our weddings to one of the boyband stars. I also watched Nickelodeon and practiced WWE moves on my brother, which resulted in a different kind of beating from both him and my mother. At school and at home, I played kickball and baseball where my brother and I as kids used ping pong paddles instead of baseball bats. And as a teenager navigating the world of teen angst, what mostly filled my mind besides sex and suicide was the dreadful apprehension of what I want (rather need) to be for the rest of my life, and how I was ever going to become a capable adult. I am, in the end, a collective of all my thoughts, my actions and all impressions of everyone I have ever met. I am my own walking mosaic collecting pieces wherever I go.
F**k, I am American, and I had to come all the way to China to learn this; not that I expect anyone to accept me as an American and not because of any conscious choice either, as if I get a choice.
As if identity is easy to define, which it is not. But it’s there.
*Sigh* I am not Chinese, and will never truly be Chinese, no matter how much I study the language and culture, or how much people insist that I am, and certainly not that I reject the Chinese identity.
I didn’t come to China for rebellion nor for peace. I’m here to make peace with myself, to harmonize the two cultural sides of a coin that may never meet eye to eye. But maybe after 3 years living a dream, I simply succumbed to the comfort of China and forgotten my mission to define myself until writing this essay and ruminating on how China helped me confront myself. Yet, like my parents who came back to China as strangers, I may return to San Francisco a much different person, maybe even still a stranger not recognizing a home I once knew, because some part of me has ‘melted’ somewhere else.