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