My friends in the US still call me half-American. My ex-colleagues in Australia call me a third Australian/American/British. Strangers call me international. Identity crisis, much? Having now lived in 3 of the largest OECD countries (and also Shanghai for a few months as a fair comparison), I can comfortably confirm that identity issues are faced by most if not all Asians born, or arriving at a young age, in Western countries. I consider myself simply ABC – Australian Born Chinese (also works for American Born Chinese but I’m not sure what the UK equivalent is) and this creates a separate form of identity; it is colloquially progressive and creates a diverse community of Asians, not limited to just Chinese, who dress, speak, act and think differently from their motherland counterparts.
Growing up as an ABC kid was confusing. I had Caucasian friends whose parents gave them free reign over their life and constantly compared this to my own, where a school day was not considered finished without going to swimming squad practice, netball training, piano lesson, and math tutoring. This difference was incomprehensible for me at a young age. Why were my parents so difficult? So strict? So boring? I was later exposed to the concept of ‘asian pride’ in high school *queue anthem: got rice, bitch?* and became notoriously rebellious but eventually found my own feet and identity in understanding that I was always going to be different, but different isn’t always bad. After all, different is a relative term. Who is to say one is the norm/standard in comparison to their neighbour?
In retrospect, my parents were quite good at keeping an open mind about my choices and understood in a way that my upbringing could never be the same as theirs. Plus, they gave up on me early when they realised I was bad at math, liked sport activities, and had no patience in learning how to sight-read and therefore could not pass my piano examinations. Dreams of having a Doctor daughter: shattered.
So in Thanksgiving spirit, with everything that I am and who I am, because I was fortunate enough to be born in Australia, I thank my parents for their guts and pure determination it took to move to a foreign country – though not really by choice, and endurance in years of language barrier struggles, poverty and underwhelming working conditions. To fight through all that in becoming successful small business owners is no small feat and taught me at a young age invaluable lessons on the value of money and hard work. And thank you for having me, as I wouldn’t have been born should the both of you had stayed in Vietnam.
On a related, but separate note. November. Though not quite over yet, November has been my best and favourite month this year, for many reasons. It started with the solidification of my age increasing by 0.037% which I’d normally be bitter about, but sweet human beings have neutralised, if not completely offset and surpassed the effects of such quarter life age crises and I found myself focusing very little on the number and a lot more on the experiences I’m able to capture, some things planned and others certainly not, leading up to and at my age.
Alongside turning older on paper and younger at heart, I have also pondered upon the following: my word for 2017. Instead of new year’s resolutions, I assign a word to denominate my year ahead and try to stick as true to it as I can. 2015 was ‘free’. 2016 was ‘new’.
Working out what word 2017 will be for me exactly, is a thought in progress, though I hope it depicts something as lovely as November has been thus far.
Live more, aim for more, give more.
Power to you.