What It Means to be "In Between"

Over the summer, I went back to China. I visited Xi'an, Jinzhou, Jilin City, Changchun, and Beijing. The purpose of the trip was twofold; to do some research for my thesis and to visit my family. I have been going back to China every year since 2014 (and before that, I returned to visit twice - once in 2004 and again in 2008).

My story is not new; I was born in China, my parents immigrated to America when I was 2-3, and I later came to America when I was 5.

By all means, I grew up in America. Year after year, vestiges of my Chinese-ness started to fade away; I stopped learning Chinese (reading and writing), spoke to my parents in mostly English, and tried very hard to be "American." At the time, what that meant was: hating my monolids, hating my Chinese grandparents (who lamented my dwindling Chinese), and hating any part of me that reminded myself that I was Chinese. I was trying very hard to fit into an America that still told me to "go back to where you came from!" 

As a result of this, I spent most of my teens disowning anything that had to do with China and being Chinese.

When I went back to China in those early years (2004 and 2008), I looked at everything with disdain and horror; China was nowhere near as modern (or clean) as America. I returned to America so very glad to be an American. America, however, didn't always show me the love I was yearning for; my desire to become American was based in fear; fear of not fitting in, of being made fun of. Raised on a childhood filled with being bullied because of my race, I just wanted to be like everyone else, which was to say: white. I wanted to be American, but I didn't exactly fit into the mold. 

Thanks to a good dose of college, Asian-American history classes, fellow Asian-American friends, and an emergence of minority-centric communities on the Internet (shoutout to Livejournal and Tumblr), I slowly moved away from hating my Chinese heritage, and instead being very, very proud of it. I returned to China in 2014, desperate to reconnect with the home I once left and shunned. I wanted more than anything to be "Chinese," only to find that the China I had left behind, had left me behind too. I couldn't speak Chinese well and I couldn't read or write, which meant that I was often left out of conversations. Furthermore, I didn't look or behave the way a mainland Chinese person would; I didn't dress like them, didn't have the same mannerisms. I no longer fit in; I was too tall, too big-breasted, too wide. I got looks everywhere I went, and not in a good way. Once, a banker even laughed at the way I wrote the number 8, asking his coworker in disbelief if what he was seeing was real. 

And so that's where I ended up, in my late twenties: Someone who is both American and Chinese, and trying to figure out what that means. In most of my writing, I have been searching for what home means when you’re someone who is in between: in between two countries, two families, two languages, two personas.

It wasn't until this most recent trip to China that I realized the answer to what I have been searching for is so, so simple: home is not a country, not your family, not a language, not who people think you are. Home is what you make it. And my home is in between.

What does that mean? My home is loving Lana Del Rey and remembering the words to Xiao Yen Zi. My home is loving burgers as much as noodles (or is it vice versa?). Taking my shoes off in people’s homes, even when they tell me not to. The color red being good luck, the color white bad. The number 8 being the best luck of them all. Saying that my body feels sour; because that’s the word for the feeling in Chinese. Still somehow believing that I’ll get sick if there’s cold air blowing at my head. My home is being just OKAY at making dumplings from scratch. My home is understanding Chinese well enough, but having a little bit harder time speaking it. My home is being a dark skinned Chinese girl. Wearing jean shorts in china and a qipao in America. Saying “a-ya!” even in English.  Always and forever loving fish head and pigs feet and chicken liver. Always and forever loving my family. Always and forever loving my life in America. Always and forever loving my family in China. Defending both, when necessary.

I’ve been looking at it all wrong. I thought that being in between was a bad thing, that it meant that I was lacking a little bit of both. But I now know that being in between is the best thing. It means having a little bit of both. Not two halves, but one whole. I am Hannah Montana - the best of both worlds.

The thesis I'm writing is about exploring the in-between. I have been saying that I am tired of writing the stories about being in between - I am ready for my writing to explore different things. Except I realize now that nothing about my writing will have to change - only my outlook. My understanding of my identity has changed. And that, I am stoked to say, makes me so excited for the writing I have yet to do.