This I Believe

Booraya - Jacksonville, Illinois
Entered on July 11, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: tolerance

Growing Up in Diversity

I believe in being true to myself. Growing up, I didn’t know who I was. I was born in Thailand but moved to Australia with my family when I was four years old.

I remember not understanding what was happening around me. The world looked different and sounded different. There were no Asians. What happened to all the motorcycles and dust? I was lost. I didn’t know who I was and how I fit in with this new environment.

After a few months, I learned to speak English and made friends. I went over to their houses after school and ate sandwiches and other Western/Australian foods. I felt confused. Why were my friend’s lives and mine so different? I brought a friend to my house one day to play. We came inside after a while and my mother asked me in Thai, “Are you hungry? Would you like me to get you something to eat?” Suddenly, from out of nowhere, I yelled, “Don’t ever talk to me in Thai again in from of my friends! I’m already different and I don’t want to be any more different!” I saw the hurt in her eyes, and she said with a sad smile, “OK, I won’t.” And she kept her word. The regret I feel for those hurtful words is very deep. Even after sixteen years, those words have continued to haunt me. I hurt someone that loved me so much because of my insecurities and confused identities.

In grade school, I had a lot of friends but I was ashamed of who I was. There was a period in my life when I didn’t eat lunch because my mother had prepared me a Thai meal. But how could I eat rice with my spoon when everyone lese was eating sandwiches? My mother prodded, pleaded, even yelled at me to eat. But stubbornly, I refused for the fear of looking different. Sometimes, when my dad would pick me up from school, he’d check to see if I had eaten my lunch, and if I hadn’t, we’d sit on the school steps and I’d finish my food. I never told my mother the reason why.

Soon I pretended that I was Australian. I stopped speaking Thai, I disregarded many of my customs and traditions, and took only sandwiches to school. Now I thought, I was no different from everyone else. Only when I looked at pictures of my friends and me, or saw the color of my hair, or the slant of my eyes in the mirror against theirs, did it really hit me again. I was not like them. Who was I in this white/blonde world?

Sometimes, I felt a bit of self-hatred for being different. Because at times, I was the girl who the other children bullied or was the on subjected to “ching chong China man” taunts. But I wasn’t a meek girl. I knew how to stand up for myself and beat up guys on the playground when I had to.

When I was ten years old, my family returned to Thailand. School wasn’t so bad. I was immediately popular because I spoke English and had the “look” that Thai people like, white skin and small eyes. How ironic that the look I once despised was now cool.

Another this that pointed out how different I was, was the fact that I looked Chinese/Japanese, had an uncommon northern Thai nickname, and I spoke English my fluently that Thai. My friends used to laugh about this, and I used to hate it. I started to hate my nickname, the beautiful nickname my father had lovingly given to me. I despised the fact that nothing in me fit together.

As I entered college and left my family and friends behind to study in America, I started to come to understand myself. I realized that my experiences of living in Australia, Thailand, Japan and now America have shaped me. The infusion of four different cultures and traditions has made me become and open minded and knowledgeable young woman. I love the end product of myself. Even though I have my whole life ahead of me, I will continue to grow and understand who I am. I will now step put into the world confidently, with my head held high and being proud of who I am. I believe in diversity, and experiences. I believe in being true to myself.