I, the Chinese Rubbery Ball

December 19, 2008
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I am a cultural amphibian. Though I have yet to discover what it means to be labeled “Chinese-American,” for now I know that it refers to someone who lives in two cultures, who experiences both but is wholly accepted in neither. The need to reconcile a Chinese heritage with an American life gave me a not-so-typical, though not entirely undesirable, childhood.


My first sight of America was nighttime New York City. I was waiting with my father for the layover flight that would take us to Boston: my new home. Yet, unlike those immigrants who came before me, for whom New York symbolized a new beginning, I did not realize then to what extent my life would change. That night seemed a confusing jumble, as if I had been pushed into that airplane without having a say on the matter, and in a way I didn’t. The journey wasn’t entirely unpleasant, however: I tasted my first coca-cola on that flight to New York and I was addicted.


The day I entered kindergarten was a curious day; although it is all but a blur now years later, certain parts still jump out at me. Firmly prodded into the classroom by my mother, despite my feeble protests, I found myself in front of my peers, being ogled at like an exotic animal, armed with not even a witty tongue because I could not yet speak English. By the second grade, however, my accent vanished and adults marveled at my fluency whenever I told them that English was not my first language.


Being Chinese not only meant being expected to bring home straight A’s but also having to deal with the Chinese body image. On my first summer back in China, my grandmother insisted that I was “wasting away” and made me take a pill to flush out tapeworms. Not surprisingly, I was already parasite-free, but after that first summer I became a chubby child and remained so until the onset of puberty. Being surrounded by thin Chinese children suggested that culturally, I had no reason not to be just as thin. I was the Chinese rubbery ball.


In the early years of my childhood, I lacked the luxuries that were the birthright of most American children. I rode the twisting subways with my parents to buy clothes at Sears and walked to the nearby grocery stores; I didn’t ride in a car until second grade. My first movie, Disney’s Hercules, was all the more special because movie-going was not a common occurrence. I bought my first Halloween costume, a vampire cape, in third grade. Afterwards, I wouldn’t take it off for days on end.


Reflecting back now, I’d like to think that my childhood has taught me the importance of perseverance and appreciation. Maybe so, but more importantly, no one can say that I grew up with everything handed to me. Every little story that defines who I am, I’ve lived and survived.





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chinadol said...
May 17, 2010 at 7:11 pm
This was well written, I loved it! That, and I can relate to it, because I am Chinese-American. But, I was adopted. =D
 
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