Mona Li

To me, being Chinese American has meant developing comfort with the discomfort that I’ll never know where exactly to call home or where my loyalties lie

MONA'S STORY

To me, being Chinese American has meant developing comfort with the discomfort that I’ll never know where exactly to call home or where my loyalties lie.

Even though I have not lived in China since I was nine, I feel an ever-growing affiliation with my heritage that stems from regret in downplaying my Chineseness when I was younger. For example, I saw Sunday Chinese language school as a waste, took care to avoid bringing homemade Chinese food in my lunchbox, and even resented my parents’ inability to speak without accents. As I reflect on what led to this repudiation, I keep coming back to seemingly innocent, passing comments that other kids made that led me to believe that deviations from “American culture” are not well-received and thus should be hidden.

It took spending a summer in France as a high school sophomore for me to realize that while I went there to chase a culture that I so romanticized, I had turned my back on my own. Believe it or not, the pivotal moment was watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony with my French hosts, whose curiosity about China and sincerity in looking to me as their source of truth (and my inability to answer their questions) helped me see that I can’t escape from what makes me who I am. This experience set me on my current, imperfect path of rediscovery of what it means to be Chinese American. I feel an urgency to make up for lost time.

Understanding my identity has certainly been a journey. Now, I feel as if I’m straddling two boats, ever so precariously in balance, unable and unwilling to take my weight off of either.

Finally, what I want you to walk away with is that words matter when it comes to conveying acceptance of or curiosity towards differences that we’ve had limited prior exposure to. Instead of thinking a culture’s food is “smelly” or “strange”, the non-adventurous eater should question whether these passed food traditions or the forever shelf-stable Twinkie is truly “strange’. With all dimensions of our intersectional identities (visible and invisible), shying away from acknowledging differences is to live under the pretence that there is an equal playing field. Instead, let’s invite conversation that allows us to bring our whole selves to the table.