Editor’s note: This story was written by a high school student in Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation’s Summer Youth Leadership Program. This story is part of a special back-to-school issue.
Not long ago, I was extensively involved in the college admissions process. I remember a particular interview with an alumnus, and we had a discussion about the implications of my studies in history — why was it so important to remember my cultural identity? Wouldn’t it be better to just assimilate into the American melting pot? What was the point in maintaining a distinct cultural identity outside of my American identity?
As a third-generation Chinese American, I have assimilated into America — I can’t speak Chinese at all. Many teachers and friends have assumed that I am bilingual. One teacher even commented on how unfortunate it is that I have lost that part of my culture. However, I do feel that I have a good sense of my Chinese heritage. I joke around with my mom about superstitions, I drink in my dad’s stories about growing up in Chinatown, and I’m involved in the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team.
But why does it matter for me to understand my Chinese heritage? I never lived in China. I’m American, so I don’t truly know the Chinese culture. What’s the point in tagging my ethnic background onto my American identity?
Thinking back on the development of the drill team that I am involved with, I repeatedly hear about how Ruby Chow had formed the team 58 years ago. She hoped not only to allow the girls in the Chinese community to have a safe place to hold fun activities outside of the house, but also to represent the Chinese community.
Past Summer Youth Leadership Program coordinator Andrew Cho experienced racial discrimination with the program in a jaywalking incident 9 years ago. If the racism that impacted Ruby Chow several decades ago still exists today, it is crucial that we take the responsibility to learn about our cultural traditions and history. We need to teach others about what we know and to show that we are not much different from everyone else.
Every time I go out in my drill uniform, which is in the style of female warriors in Chinese opera, or perform a Chinese traditional dance, I hear my instructors tell us how we represent the community and that there is nothing to be afraid of. As I have become more exposed to the institutionalized racial stereotyping of the world, I see how important it is to know your family’s origins — even though it may appear exclusive to others. I think that there is value in developing a support group that understands what cultural challenges people face.
As a teacher once told me, it takes a significantly uncomfortable event or situation to allow for growth. It is necessary to step up and learn to embrace other cultures in a way that one would soak up their own culture. ♦