For me, China means family. Every few years, my family goes to China over summer break to visit my countless number of relatives; there are cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, grand-aunts and grand-uncles, and more. Each time, the weeks pass by in a flurry of meals at restaurants with large tables of people. Relatives I haven’t seen for many years pat me on the back and smother me with their hugs, telling me how big I have gotten. I am always perfectly aware that I have grown since I was four, and such gatherings can be tiresome at times, but meeting and spending time with my cousins makes up for it all.
All of my cousins are older than me, so I used to feel like a kid around them; now that I am older I can better enjoy my time with them without feeling uncomfortable. This past summer, I visited China again and had a lot of fun with my four cousins on my mother’s side, but contrary to other years, I also received a lot of insight on my lack of knowledge about Chinese culture.
During the first few nights, we sang karaoke several times. I knew no Chinese songs, so I sang English ones that my cousins didn’t know. It was then that I first realized just how American I was. Later on, we went to my cousin’s girlfriend’s house and played a game similar to “Twenty Questions”, where you had to guess the name of a famous person on a paper that you received from someone else. I didn’t know how to write any Chinese celebrity names, so I ended up writing Mickey Mouse on the paper I gave to my cousin. I also couldn’t guess the name on my new paper at all. It turned out to be a very popular Chinese actress, but I had never heard of her. Once again, I felt a sudden cultural difference. Whereas in America I feel very Asian, sitting around the table there in China, I felt more American than I had ever felt before.
However, I have grown up speaking Chinese at home, so while my Chinese wasn’t as natural as my cousins’, I could easily communicate with them. On the other hand, my second cousins, who also live in America, can’t speak Chinese. They visited China several months before I did, and they had a lot of trouble with communication. My grandmother kept telling me about how my second cousins couldn’t talk properly to any of my relatives, and how hard it was for everyone. I may have not been up to date with Chinese pop culture, but I was at least able to interact with everyone there. After hearing about my second cousins, I was able to see how limiting understanding only one culture and speaking only one language can be when it comes to interacting with people in other cultures.
Being an American with a Chinese background, I can experience two very different cultures and learn from both. At times, I am hit very hard by the feeling of belonging to one or the other, and I feel out of place in some surroundings, but I am very grateful to have grown up living by both American and Chinese traditions. Understanding Chinese culture helps me relate to other Asian cultures, while growing up in America helps me identify with other western cultures. My Chinese background has broadened my view of the world, and I will always be thankful for the experiences that these two cultures have given me.