I used to imagine that I was born from nothing and carried by a stork to my mother. It made me feel pristine, spontaneous, and enchanting. I would be not a creation of DNA and cells and mitosis—which could be explained by science—instead, I would be something not of flesh, something mysterious. And no matter how hard the world tried to trap me into a single term, a single classification, they would not be able to do so.
Now, I am too old to cling to that wish. I believe now that the problem is not that I can be easily characterized, but why I am characterized as such and the impact of those characterizations on my person. I am a Chinese American, and my heritage is a vitally important part of my identity. Sometimes, I wonder if my Chinese heritage was not so permanently and visibly imprinted into my physical characteristics, I would place such importance on this aspect of my identity. Maybe it is because I realize that my Chinese features spark the viewer’s mind into generating certain qualities, flaws, cultural habits, and abilities that I may or may not have. Most importantly, that the result of these “sparks” unconsciously becomes imposed upon my body, and I have no ability to stop it. For instance, many acquaintances and friends have mistaken me for a mathematical genius. However, math makes me bleed out of my eyes.
I cannot blame them for their assumptions though. I, like them, need certain characteristics and symbols to understand the world. These symbols teach me what to expect in life. If not, I would constantly be confused about what a certain action means, how to respond to a certain gesture, or how to accommodate a certain person’s cultural habits. I cannot imagine a world where I am forced to discover everyday how a certain skin color affects a person or what emotion watery eyes express. Most importantly, my culture is my portable home. It allows me to “set up” wherever I am in the world so that I never feel completely lost at any point in my life.
I realize now that I not only have to become the person I want to be, but also must find a ways to prove and make it obvious to the world. I do care what the world thinks of me, because I am a communal creature that needs relationships where I am respected—I cannot live alone. Thus, I believe developing my identity is a joint process between me and the rest of society. I am a swimmer and society is the tidal wave that either helps push me further forwards or pull me back in my swim. The beach shore is the person that I want to be and once I touch it with the cool tide I will become my ideal. The journey is long, treacherous, and often redundant, but I have faith that I can reach it someday.
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