May 4, 201209:01 AMChina Mom
How she sees herself
The other night when we were having dinner at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants, one of the staff came over to talk with us like she always does. And she spoke to my daughter in Mandarin – just a few simple phrases, nothing too complicated.
And as usual, my chatty, outgoing daughter turned quiet and shy, avoiding eye contact and giving – at most – one-word answers or nodding her head.
I’ve noticed she gets shy around Asians – whether they speak to her or not. With other adults, it’s all I can do to keep her from talking and sometimes hugging them, so the difference in behavior is striking.
I asked my daughter if she gets nervous around Chinese people because she’s uncomfortable speaking Chinese with them.
She nodded and said, “I mean look at me! I’m American! I don’t even look like them!”
I told her she looked a lot like them – that she is “them.” She shook her head and said, “Their eyes are more slanted and mine are more round. And they speak Chinese and I don’t. They’re Chinese and I’m not.”
I agreed that she is from a province in China where people’s eyes are more round than others, but added, “You are Chinese.”
She said, “Not like them…”
She had me there, because in a way…she’s right. Chinese adoptees can sometimes feel this way – are they Chinese? Or American? They’re both…but they’re neither.
It may seem pretty straight forward – she’s biologically Chinese, but being Chinese can sometimes be seen more as how you live, rather than where you were born. What my sweet little girl was saying in her six-year-old words is that she doesn't feel “really” Chinese because her cultural traditions, values, food and attitudes – and yes, her language – are more American because of how she is living.
Ironically, earlier that day she was attending a Daisy Scout event and someone asked her troop where they were from. My daughter shouted, “China!” - her reply anytime anyone asks where she’s from. Clearly, she's proud to be from China...but is she comfortable being Chinese?