Third Culture Kid

Kayla Fu, Staff Writer

“Speak more Chinese,” mom says. It’s the third time you’ve heard her say it this year. She used to say that phrase a lot more when you were a kid. Lots of things have changed, in fact. Celebrations of holidays and traditions are slowly disappearing, bit by bit, like they’re breaking off from your yearly routine, a part of me gone I had not realized was part of me in the beginning. She sings happy birthday in English now, and she writes cards without a word of Chinese. You used to count the amount of English words dad would say in a sentence. It’s getting less, and his accent is barely noticeable. You think you’ve forgotten how to write your name, you probably have. You choose not to think about it, since change is inevitable. You hate it, it’s hard to bear the thought of being so American the only thing that defines you is your hooded eyes and black hair. 

Recently, I learned what I am. I’m a third culture kid, a kid raised in an environment different from their parents. After quarantine ended, it came to my realization how far away from my culture I was. All the Chinese words my grandma used to teach me had faded away the moment my mom stopped asking me to speak more Chinese. Talking to my relatives was like them desperately trying to communicate with a wall (true). I knew they could tell I understood, but didn’t know how to respond. My first language was nearly nonexistent. I was so American that it was weird telling people that I was Chinese-American, like the Chinese part of me was not there.

I soon came to realize that it was because I used to hate the Chinese part of me, and attempted to bury it down. On international day, I would walk away from any station even remotely related to China. During trips to China, I only ever talked to my English speaking relatives. I hate to say that it was so easy to forget, rather than face who I was. I hate that I thought beauty was a white girl who ate pancakes for breakfast and pizza for lunch. I hate that I thought that it was funny to make fun of Chinese songs and dances and food, even though it hurt a little bit. I hate that I let people make fun of me. It was the little things that tried to make me bury myself. I still don’t know if it’s waiting for me to unearth it or if it’s already turned to dust, a whisper of what once was. 

It’s so hard to realize that you can’t pretend like you’re enough for yourself, and it’s harder to just accept it. It’s not my fault that my connection to my culture is severed, hanging by a thread. I sometimes wish that I hadn’t caved to white America, and convinced my family to do the same with me. It’s part of me now, and I’ve accepted it. It’s okay that I don’t know how to read or write Chinese, or that I’m whitewashed. It’s okay that I’m trying to unlearn those words kids on the bus used to tell me. I’m just me, always will be. I’ll have to live with myself for the rest of my life, so I better learn how to do that quickly. It’s not okay to feel ashamed, because nobody else has the right to tell you what is wrong about you or not. 

There must be millions of third culture kids who feel the same way as I do. Heck, I’m definitely not alone. I have so many regrets about my childhood, moving into my teenage years. I regret caving into words and social media, but I was easily manipulated. I regret not actually trying a little harder when grandma came to teach me Chinese. I regret that I could never write an article like this in full Chinese. But the one thing I will never regret is that I’m trying hard to make that severed connection just a little stronger.