Culture shock

I have always been an outsider; at the same time I have not. The most important thing to keep in mind as you read this: I am not having an identity crisis.

San Francisco’s rough 20% Chinese population and the fact that I spent the majority of my youth in the western areas of San Francisco (Richmond/Sunset) and went to a predominantly Chinese ensured that I would never feel like a minority. [Other East Asians, you know, the type that dem whitefolk can’t tell apart, contributed to the “ingroup” as well]

The East Coast, as I understand it, is a bit different. It’s not like they’re Columbus seeing West Indians for the first time. However, I’ve had the displeasure of encountering some people who are probably the fucking modern-day equivalent. Within a few minutes of meeting me and perhaps inquiring or assuming my ethnicity, some ask if I speak Chinese. This is a valid question, despite being asked seconds after “Hi, my name is _______.” However, after balking when I reply, “No, not a word,” I begin to believe it’s inappropriate. I don’t ask every white person if they speak French, Russian, German, Italian, Swiss, Gaelic, whatever. Is it so hard to assume that there’s a huge probability that I grew up in a household not too different from their own?

I’m proud of my heritage. But there are ways in which I can’t “connect” with it, and why should I? For as much as I love history and the past, I have no inclination to learn the Chinese language (other than for strategic uses as China will one day rule the world), to visit China, to trace back my ancestors. My family is here, my life is here. I can tell you that my paternal great-great-grandfather came here in the late 19th century as a laborer. My great-grandmother was a seamstress in Oakland but never learned English well. My grandmother was the first bilingual social worker in San Francisco. My dad is a retired sales manager. My mom’s parents were both immigrants and died before she was a teenager; she and her four siblings raised, fended for, and prospered themselves.

Like, yeah, I’m the fucking American dream.

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