Featured Image: National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts
Twelve years old is a really interesting age to immigrate to a completely different corner of the world. On the one hand, you have built up a firm first layer foundation of who you are — a part of you will always be the same person you were at that youthful age. On the other hand, you’re also right on the cusp of arguably one of the most crucial eras of your life, where the second layer of your foundation as a person is built and established. Building these two layers of myself under the influence of two completely different cultures has been a difficult and conflicting journey, but it is also through this journey that I have come to learn more about who I am and who I want to be.
I began this process at the complete opposite end of where I am striving to be in this moment. I sought to do everything I can to rid myself of any element which strikes as different or other than what is considered “mainstream” here in the United States. As a middle school student, you engulf yourself in so much self-consciousness that you actively seek out to define yourself as someone who is “just like the rest of you.” I learned all the American slangs, watched American news, downloaded popular American apps, and dressed in American clothing, all for the purpose of proving my ability to fit in with my fellow peers.
It was one of the most excruciating parts of my life, waking up every day determined to prove my worthiness of being part of a cultural group that I have not been accustomed to for the first twelve years of my life. Nonetheless, I did try. I tried my hardest and worked to culturally assimilate with my community while coming to terms with the struggles faced by every teenager around the world as they embark on the journey of defining who they are.
I don’t know if I can claim that I succeeded in becoming increasingly recognized as part of this western community that surrounds me. But at some point, I came to the realization that as I put in the efforts to assimilate with my surroundings, I was also growing increasingly distant from all the cultural elements that had come to establish who I was up to the point when I set foot in the United States. I was losing connection to my language, my values, and my hometown. I was sacrificing a part of myself in order to prove my worth to this new culture.
There was nothing remotely positive to feel about losing a part of yourself. In fact, it makes you look in the mirror and come face to face with the person standing in front of you, asking:
Who do you want to be? Where do you belong? How will you find belonging?
It is upon this reflection that I gradually step toward where I am now: a place of recognition for my roots and a place of actively preserving it from further self-eradication.
One of my biggest fears that I came to develop is the fear of returning home one day to find myself a foreign person in a foreign land. I can, as an adult, no longer fathom and accept the prospect of standing in front of my friends and family at home as a stranger who’s eliminated everything except his shell. That’s why I spent the last few years working to create this so-called “eastern bubble” for myself. It has nothing to do with a rejection of western culture or an under-appreciation of it. It does, however, have to do with the price I unknowingly paid to surround myself in western culture, the price that is my core identity.
I am now on a journey to pick up the pieces of my childhood self I had so carelessly thrown onto the ground and reconnect with a culture that is part of my making, my culture. I am taking the time to listen to Chinese-language music, watch Taiwanese dramas, and regularly communicate with my friends from Taiwan. I’m trying to recognize and appreciate the place and culture that will always be my home, trying to be proud of speaking my language, and trying to establish my cultural identity, which both acknowledges the past and looks forward to the future. In doing so, I hope that I will always be able to take a part of my home with me, regardless of where I travel to in the future.