08/01/2020 No. 158
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Chinese or American? Or Both?
By Amy Ku
April 1, 2010

[In response to the previously written article “Being ABC”]



Because I grew up in white affluent neighborhoods, I never had any Asian friends until I went away to college where the majority of the friends I made were Chinese. For a really long time, before college, I did not want to have anything to do with being Chinese at all. I wanted to so desperately to be American, and only American. One may ask, what does it mean to be American?


Throughout high school, I remember attributing “American” to Caucasian, and that was all it was. However, as I grew up a bit, and lost a bit of my ignorance, I realized that being American does not mean being Caucasian. A lot of what is considered as American culture is derived from the Western religion brought over from the Europeans when they first came over to the “New World.”  American culture, due to the population and society that we are in now, has become a mesh of different cultures combined into one. A lot of the Caucasian Americans that I know take different aspects of other cultures that they like and adopt them as their own. The American culture, it seems, has become one that is generalized and left up to interpretation. On the other hand, the Chinese culture is one that is defined more clearly by the Buddhist religion and from traditions handed down through generations upon generations. It is a culture that is focused on family, honor, and respect and much more centralized and specific.


In my young 25 years, I have realized that a huge difference between the American culture and the Chinese culture is the concept of Individualism versus Community. As an American, I am very individualistic. I have no problem doing things on my own, without others. My thoughts and plans for the future are very much centered on myself. However, as a Chinese, I feel an obligation towards the family. Thus, as a Chinese-American, I worry about my family; yet at the same time, my plans are still about myself.


One thing I have come to realize is the fact that I am constantly re-evaluating where I stand on things due to the Chinese and American culture differences. I realize that sometimes I am much more opinionated on certain things due to the influences of the American culture, and other times, I am much more subdued and respectful due to the influences of the Chinese culture. As I go through life, I realize that I will never really be able to fully complete the process of combining the two cultures. However, it is a process that will be on-going and I will have to make choices of whether I want to think with the Chinese part or the American part of me, daily.


What help me with these daily decisions are the influences of my Chinese friends. Through them, I have seen the positives of being Chinese-American, and mixing the Chinese culture, that I had so abhorred, into the American culture, that I had so revered, while growing up. In high school, I would see the small group of Asians who only associated with each other and nobody else. I remember thinking they were discriminating against anybody who was not Asian because they had so much pride in their culture. However, as I sat around with a few close friends from college, I realized that I had become one of “those.” I have come to realize, that it is not so much pride in the culture, but it is more about who can understand what you have been through and the way you think.


The majority of my close friends now, are not only Asian, but Chinese. I have come to realize that being Chinese and American, is not so bad after all. Spending time with my close friends from college, I realize that they have (somewhat) successfully figured out what it means to be Chinese-American. They have taken the honor and respect of the Chinese culture and combined it with the individualism of the American culture and developed it into something I am encouraged and inspired by. They have managed to take the love for the Chinese language and integrated into our daily English language jokes. For example, due to my shyness around large groups, one of my friends would call me “wallflower” in Chinese; but instead of using the actual terminology, he would say qiang2 hua1 (literally translated – “wall” “flower”).


Just because I consider myself Chinese, does not mean I do not consider myself American. I am very proud to be an American. However, I am also very proud of being Chinese. Only those of multiple cultures will ever understand the pride that I have in being Chinese-American.
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Amy Ku is currently working as a Marketing Operations Coordinator at Elsevier Science & Technology Books in San Diego. She received her B.S. in Community and Regional Development at the University of California - Davis and is planning on going back to obtain a Masters of Business Administration in the near future. Her hope is to climb her way up the corporate ladder in the marketing field; preferably in the high-tech industry. When she is not striving to climb the corporate ladder, one would find her working on photography, enjoying a good book, or out socializing with friends.
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