On Our Radar: How I Grew To Love Being Chinese

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Food writer Clarissa Wei recently wrote this post about being Chinese-American, and her relationship to Chinese food:

I was born, raised, educated, primed, and prepped in Los Angeles. But behind my fluent English, my American brain, my citizenship, my philosophies, my outlook on life… is a child who was raised by the Taiwanese. I am my parents’ daughter and Chinese culture runs through my blood. Always.

Of course, I wasn’t always this amorous toward my heritage. Adolescence, after all, was a decade-long culture shock. The mannerisms and customs my classmates subscribed to were radically contrary to mine and I didn’t understand why I, born and raised in the same land, acted so differently.

And so without consciously doing so, I rebelled, opting for spaghetti and meatballs instead of pork pottage with thin vermicelli… choosing to bring Sprite to school over the grass jelly drink I loved at home. I neglected the Chinese songs and poetry I, at the time, had memorized, and slowly the lyrics drifted from my consciousness. Just like I wanted them to.

The only proof of my Chinese competence is hidden somewhere in the dusty piles of VCRs somewhere in my home. There’s a video of me, at 3, singing and jumping around naked in unbridled delight.  “Mei mei!” my mom would shout. The Chinese word for little girl. And I’d respond, answering in a Mandarin song.

That image breaks my heart. …Because at one point I decided that that little girl –that plump obnoxious Chinese kid – wasn’t good enough for me. She was the subject of bullying and held me back, socially. And so I put her in a box, stripped her of her language and instructed her to never, ever come out again.

It took living in China for four months to realize what I had done.

I’ve come to realize, within the past five years, that my ethnic background is a beautiful blessing in disguise. Within me is thousands of years worth of cultural knowledge. My tendency to bow slightly when I see older Chinese folks, the way I can speak to a Chinese chef and get him to tell me about his passions and recipes without suspicion, my ability to blend in seamlessly in Taiwan and China — this all comes naturally. These habits, these small cultural adjustments I’m able to make in the right context, they are the gifts my parents passed down to me.

Read the full article here

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