Monday, March 16, 2009

Growing Up Chinese in an American World

A friend of mine gave me links to a wonderful article at the National Women’s History Museum called Chinese American Women: A History of Resilience and Resistance. I know this sounds lame, but I guess I’m finally interested in finding my roots.

After my father served in the US Army, he married my mother in 1946, and they lived in China for three years. Then they had to escape the Communists with my sisters (2 years old, and 3 months old) so they came back to the US. I was not born until 10 years later. My parents were very strict and brought me up following a lot of Chinese expectations. This was very hard for me, especially since I was surrounded with American friends who did not have parents with the same values. It always seemed to me like they were having lots of fun while all I was allowed to do was study, chores, and take music lessons. Now as I learn more about my heritage, I feel that was something to be proud of instead of resenting. I still play my accordion and have achieved many goals from my studying. I’m not sure that I would have reached all my goals if my parents hadn’t instilled in me this sense of responsibility and hard work.

Growing up as the only Chinese American girl in my school, the differences in my facial features made me fair game for many children to bully and tease for many years. I wanted so much to be like everyone else and resented the fact that I was different. Many of my teachers expected me to know more about my heritage than I did and seemed disgusted with me when I didn’t. Other teachers were upset when my parent’s view of what happened between China and the US was a little different than what is taught in our history books. These encounters made me want to deny my heritage even more. It wasn’t until I became a teacher and started to teach students to embrace their own heritage rather than ignore it, that I became interested in my own heritage. I guess this was an example of practicing what I preach.

I really enjoyed Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club (the book and the movie) because I could understand a lot of what those girls went through and what they were feeling. I then began to look for books that would help me understand the life my parents and grandparents led when they lived in China. A couple of years ago, my husband and I went to visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site where the first transcontinental railroad was finally completed at Promontory Point. I’ve been told that my grandfathers worked on the railroads when they were first formed. I have visited Ellis Island to imagine what my family might have gone through when they entered the US. Later I found out that my father actually came from China through Vancouver to Boston.

I have begun to connect with other Chinese people around me. I have even enrolled in classes to learn Mandarin as well as found online courses to help me too. We took a 30 day tour around China in 2000 and I would like to go back for another tour in the future. Hopefully someday there will be a Chinese American Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

All of this has made me more aware of what our students are going through as they struggle with who they are. As teachers, we need to teach tolerance of cultural differences and help those students embrace their heritage instead of resenting it. By collaborating with classes around the world, students would be able to connect with students in other countries and learn to understand the difference and similarities they have with each other. Lessons exploring cultures and teaching tolerance will help our students be more successful in the classroom and in life.

Original image: 'Great Wall' http://www.flickr.com/photos/61329414@N00/896744048 by: Zsolt Bugarszki

12 comments:

Kvanwyk said...

Your posting struck a very responsive chord with me. Growing up in a racially intolerant community made me aware of the wrongness to judge an individual based on race, beliefs and language differences. I was fortunate to have had parents who could guide my thinking and helped me to endure peer pressure. Racism and other predudices are deeply rooted in the hearts of people and unless curbed at an early age, could grow into something ugly. You are so right in your observations of how we should foster tolerance and understanding in school, when the minds of learners are still (hopefully) receptive.

Jennifer in OR said...

Wonderful to read about your heritage! I wish you the best with learning Mandarin; I love language and the connections you can make with a culture through language.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat, your post is interesting because I can relate to all of what you went through as a kid in a racially intolerant community. I am a Korean-American who came to the US when I was a year old. I went through the same feelings of resentment because I was the only minority in most of my classes. I really disliked my heritage and was really harsh on the Korean culture. It wasn't until I took a trip to Korea as an adult with my mom and started grad school to become a teacher that my hard heart started to soften. I think my experiences of not feeling accepted among my peers has driven me to become a teacher, make a difference for those students who go through the same thing as me. I hope you enjoy getting back to your heritage. I have enjoyed my journey so far. Thanks for sharing.

loonyhiker said...

Kvanwyk: I'm glad your parents guided you in the right direction. It is really hard for children to go against their parent's beliefs.

loonyhiker said...

Jennifer in OR: I actually have a better appreciation of my own language when learning another language. I also understand better why others have trouble learning specific things about our language.

loonyhiker said...

Anonymous: Good luck in your journey. It sounds like we may be on the same one! I hope my past has helped me be a better teacher and my future will help other students/teachers understand more about tolerance.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any suggestions of books for elementary aged children who have similar struggles as you did when you were a child?

loonyhiker said...

Anonymous: For some reason, the books by Laurence Yep pop into my mind. I really enjoyed them and I know from reading his biography that he grew up with the same kinds of feelings that I did.

Anonymous said...

useful resource for language development/learning

http://www.oculture.com/2006/10/foreign_languag.html

loonyhiker said...

anonymous: Thank you! These were great links!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your story, and your experience surprised me that how difficult Chinese Americans went through in old days. I am a Chinese coming from China a few years ago. Now, I teach Chinese at a public school. I was wondering If you teach at elementary or high school? What do you feel when you encourage cultural diversity in your classroom? Thank you very much!

loonyhiker said...

@anonymous I taught high school and I think they really were interested in my heritage but didn't know how to ask. Once I opened the door and started to talk about it, they were really interested. It was amazing how many questions they had but didn't know how to ask them until I brought it up. Ignorance causes a lot of racism and by giving more and more knowledge about other cultures encourages tolerance and understanding. Thanks so much for reading my blog!