My Asian-American Immigrant Story
Jarritos, one of my favorite soft drinks and taco companions, invited me to share my immigrant story and struggles. So, without further hesitation, here it is:
As I sit here, in front of my laptop, words are swirling on my mind. Emotions are running high, but not dry as tears are welling behind my eyes as I attempt to hammer out a story I hold dear to my heart.
For my long-time readers, this piece of factual information isn't new to you. I am an immigrant to the United States. I first immigrated way back in 1994 from Hong Kong with my immediate family. Shortly thereafter my extended family followed suit. We all happily occupied several floors of apartments in the same building on Figueroa Ave in Chinatown, Los Angeles. There were happy times. There were sad times. Most of the time, we were just incredibly grateful to have one another under the same roof on our pursuit towards improving our economic wellbeing and stability.
Contrary to stereotypes you might encounter in mainstream forms of media, my family and I arrived on a commercial airline (Cathay Pacific, to be exact). There was neither boat nor sea on our journey; we weren't your Fresh Off the Boat archetype.
As with most Chinese immigrants, I suffered from an immediate language barrier that made me vulnerable to some intense obstacles with bullies early on. I was always very passive about it, never one to actively engage or react to teasing on the playground. (I later learned that this was behavior characteristic of textbook Cancers.) My parents had instilled in me that it was always better to tolerate than react rashly. Oftentimes, I felt alone and alienated with no one to turn to. I distinctly remember that this loneliness and desperation to connect fueled my desire to improve my English and accelerate my cultural acclimation. And I succeeded within a year. By the time I was enrolled in second grade, I spoke with confidence and without much of an accent. The latter becoming less and less apparent as my consumption of The Simpsons quadrupled. Yes, I am proud to say that The Simpsons increased my English proficiency and affinity towards crude, slapstick humor.
Over time and in consequence, I became gradually more fixated by Westernized-American culture. I became increasingly white-washed in how I perceived and engaged with the world around me. I shunned at Cantonese dramas, instead opting for shows like Dawson's Creek, Party of Five and 90210. (Okay, okay I'll still admit that Ally McBeal remains one of my all-time favorite shows.) I began to dislike my mom's Cantonese cooking that I once couldn't live without. I even started despising the way I looked -- my imbalanced double eyelids, stubby nose and round face without a highly-coveted jawline contour. Although I was heavily involved in student organizations that championed Asian and Asian American causes, deep down, I was a traitor in sheep's clothing.
It took me years to realize that all I needed to do was love myself for who I am. The first step, in retrospect, was to always love myself first -- flaws and all. Eventually those hardened layers of self-imposed colonization and whitewashing faded away, as I reconciled with my Chinese ancestry and heritage. I was finally coming out of my Joy Luck Club episodic ordeal.
Nowadays, I am much more rooted in my identity as a Chinese and Asian-American than ever. I’ve come to appreciate that living your own truth doesn’t always have to be so black and white or exclusionary or self-loathing. I relish in the fact that I reside in the vibrant, multi-cultural region of the San Gabriel Valley, where the access to pan-Asian and Mexican food, cultural centers and enclaves are unparalleled.
I hope that by sharing my immigrant story it’ll encourage more self-love, respect for other cultures and minorities and their stories as well. Only through kindness and compassion can we cultivate a world that seeks to unite rather than extradite. And only through understanding the wide diversity of multiculturalism here in America will we truly discover how well Jarritos goes with Vietnamese egg rolls. You know, just for the record.