When I was born, my mother sent me back to China as we were living in poverty in America and my family couldn’t afford to take care of another child. When I arrived in China, I met my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother took care of me for six years; in fact, she was the first person to change my diaper. Over the course of those years, I immersed myself in Chinese traditions and rules, until the day I was sent back to finally meet my parents in America.
When I arrived, I felt like I was living with strangers. I was lucky enough to be able to communicate with my family at home, but when they registered me for school, that was when I truly felt alone. Following those years, I began to slowly understand American traditions and, in my head, I compared and contrasted the differences between them and Chinese traditions. I was confused about the way my parents raised me because it wasn’t like anything I’ve seen on television or was taught in health ed classes. Since it was something I grew up with, I didn’t bother to find any errs and took on whatever punishment I had. Then I slowly began to be desensitized by their discipline and instead, wore them as a badge of pride.
One day I was chatting with some of my other Asian friends, laughing along and complaining about our parents. We all agreed that they were unyielding and strict as I realized that each one of our stories all had a similar theme. It’s that they value conformity over creativity. That their children have learned to behave differently after coming to America. I asked them if they’ve ever found their discipline questionable but they all shrugged at me, saying “This is just how Asian parents are.”
After that day, I spent my time wanting to unlearn the things my parents taught me because I thought that if I brought my children up in the same light as they did, they’d grow up to be loathful, like me. So, then I avoided my parents, hating them as they viewed me as difficult, rebellious, and unloyal to them and what they believed to be Chinese traditions. Soon, I would slowly steer away from my culture altogether.
After years of trying to find my identity and fit myself within one culture, I realized that I didn’t have to follow every tradition in Chinese culture. When I steered away from it, I didn’t want to be associated with China’s conservative and unyielding ways, but as I’ve matured, I know I can be a Chinese American who evolved and reformed that tradition.
© Yumiko Chow. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.