currently: listening to 'Follow Through' by Gavin DeGraw
Day 20: Difference of not fitting in
Growing up, I wanted to be like everyone else. Which is pretty difficult when you're the only Chinese person in your school's year group, and the only Chinese family on your street in the 90s.
My mum tells me I was in kindergarten when I said to her I didn't want to be Chinese. I don't actually remember saying such a sentence but it's funny how even at 4 years old, I could be influenced enough to say I wanted to be a completely different person. Not fitting in can be such a fearful thing.
So for a long time, growing up as a kid in predominantly white Auckland, I rejected my Chinese Malaysian heritage. I had Asian friends, predominantly Korean in my younger primary years, who went to Korean churches and Korean schools. But I wasn't like them. In my family, the most "Chinese" I let myself get was dressing up for Chinese New Year every summer. And I think the only reason I was okay with it was because I got gifted with money.
There's a term for people like me. Bananas. "White" on the inside, "yellow" on the outside. Asians that assimilate the Kiwi/Western culture despite carrying the physical appearance of someone from the East.
The younger years of my life were spent fighting against the Asian stereotype others initially assumed of me. I wanted "normal" lunches, and not to speak any Chinese. I didn't like math, nor did I want to be top of math like the other Asians. I loved English classes and writing. I wanted to become an author, not a stereotyped doctor or accountant.
When I was 10, I remember my class teacher asking me one morning tea to stay behind, so she could introduce me to this Malaysian girl who had enrolled in our class. I remember her telling me "your families are both from Malaysia, I'm sure you'll have a lot in common." The fact was I had never really met an actual person from Malaysia my age (who I wasn't related to). I couldn't relate to her at all, and I hated my teacher for trying to lump me into a category that I didn't understand.
As I progressed through to high school, the most memorable comment I had ever received from friends was "You're not even that Asian." Which at the time I felt was a compliment. I had successfully spent 9 or so years avoiding being lumped in with every other Asian stereotype, that I basically become the product of the culture I grew up in. In a sense, you'd think that would have made me feel like I fit in.
But truth is, for someone like me, I'll never "fit" into society like the majority of New Zealanders do. They don't have to deal with racism, or cultural stereotypes, or cultural traditions that differ from New Zealand's norm. They don't get asked "but where are you REALLY from?" and sometimes get treated like an unwanted visitor in their own home city.
That is the truth of being a New Zealand born Chinese. And now, as a 24-year-old, I think that's a real shame for everyone else to not experience what it's like. Those experiences have shaped me to be me.
I regret how I didn't accept my family culture enough as a kid, and how I refused to learn the language my elder generations spoke. But by being different, to break stereotypes and cultural expectations of the family tree I'm from and the land I live on, it has made me the person I am today. I hate racism. I hate when people are treated unfairly due to the colour of their skin. Would I have understood these things if I wasn't the way I am?
And more importantly, the one thing I love the most about being different to my next door neighbour is that I am different. I see the world through a different set of eyes, and that perspective has given me a way to stand out in a crowd of stereotypes of "typical New Zealanders."
I may not fit the norm, and quite frankly I don't think I ever want to. There's a difference to not fitting in, and that's what has made me who I am.
For the month of January 2016, I'm writing 31 personal stories about things in my life I'm thankful for. See all my posts during my month of thankfulness here.