By Jennifer Wong
Thinking back to my childhood, I realize that I was a very naturally curious kid. Questions ranged from the origins of life to why the sky is blue, and reasons why we celebrate strange holidays that I hardly ever hear other kids talk about. Though my mother and father did not always have the knowledge to answer all of my questions, they taught me about Chinese culture, which in turn gave them a moment of peace and quiet before I asked them questions about something else.
However, now that I’m older, my curiosity has shifted to thinking about what my future will hold. The thing that scares me most about the four big milestones in life is the thought of having children. What happens if I don’t have the answers to their questions?
Nowadays, much can be learned in school or through the media, but family still plays a large role in teaching children, primarily about things regarding culture and values. Being a second-generation Chinese American, my parents had a solid knowledge of Chinese culture because they grew up in Hong Kong.
For every instance that I have asked about why we eat the foods we eat, or how to say certain words in Cantonese, I always received a quick and concise answer. I managed to learn almost everything I currently know about my heritage just through conversations with my parents around the dinner table or on long car rides. But my knowledge of Chinese culture is nowhere near the knowledge that my parents possess. If it really takes that much knowledge to pass on a sliver of it to the next generation, what could I possibly teach my own children?
Growing up in Seattle, I didn’t have much of a chance to familiarize myself with my ancestral homelands in Guangdong province and Hong Kong. Even though English is supposed to be my second language, I never had any recollection of struggling with English, as opposed to Cantonese. To many of my fellow second-generation Chinese American friends, we do not actually speak Chinese. Instead, we speak “Chinglish,” the awkward combination of English words and phrases mixed in with broken Chinese. Barely able to read and write Chinese characters, I can already sense my impending failure when trying to teach my children of their native tongue.
While eavesdropping on my mother’s phone call with a friend, they discussed the fate of her future grandson. For over an hour, they noted the pros and cons of having the grandson live in China for the first few years of his life as opposed to living in America, so he can get an early grasp of learning Chinese. Another idea my mother came up with was limiting future spouse candidates to those who were born and raised in China.
Still, regardless of these possible scenarios, I hope to be able to pass as much of my culture on to my progeny. Cultural background is what sets immigrant families apart from everybody else in this country, so I want to make sure not to lose it. (end)
Editor’s note: This story was written by a Summer Youth Leadership Program student, not a Northwest Asian Weekly staff member.