To be or not to be, that is the question

Who am I? To quote the musical Rent, how do you measure, not a year but measure a person? In race? In age? In socioeconomic status? In friends? Family? Memories? Experiences? Intelligence? Where I was born? Where I live now? Who I live with? The color of my hair? The clothes I wear? There are endless aspects to one’s identity and throughout this trip I began to conform to what society wants me to be. I started to say what people wanted to hear me say, rather than what I found to be the truth.

Being in India with a group of mainly white students, I stood out amongst a few others for being ethnically different. Therefore, they often wanted to know where we were coming from. “We’re from the US” however did not satisfy their curiosity and they would often ask me individually where I was from.  The answer to “Where are you from?” not being Beverly, Massachusetts but the answer to “Where are you from?” being China. I soon learned to just say China because I knew that’s what they were asking me and it’s too complex to say I am adopted when there’s a language barrier. Plus when I said US, they looked confused and I felt like in some way I was lying to them.  But saying China makes me feel like I’m not telling the complete truth.

When I came to Exeter, I thought that I would finally find my place. The diversity percentage is almost fifty, and there are so many ethnic clubs. However, these ethnic clubs made me feel even less Asian. If I go to CSO (Chinese Students Organization), the students there are second generation, who have parents who speak to them in Chinese or sometimes they’re international and are straight from China. That’s not me, I can’t completely relate to what their experiences are as a Chinese American. For the first time, I felt discouraged by Asians to be proud that I am Asian.

This is not the first time I have struggled with identity and people like to categorize me “American” or “Chinese.” I can never be “Chinese American.” People even question me on why I say Chinese first or even why I consider myself to be Chinese at all. That is the worst feeling of all. “You’re very American. Look at your lifestyle, the way you dress, the way you speak.” However, I immigrated to the United States. I cannot just ignore the reality that I was born in China. Some people get very shocked that I root for China during the Olympics. “You don’t have any memories in China. You were too young. How can you consider yourself Chinese if you don’t remember your life there?” Memories are not the only thing that measures identity.

When we visited some of the Anganwadis in Kalol, we got to speak with adolescent boys and girls who were around our age. Some people shared with the group that it surprised them that some of the teenagers did not know their age. “It’s so weird because age is such a large part of identity,” I remember someone saying. I thought it was a good point. But the next day we did home visits, and while we were at these teen’s houses, I realized age doesn’t matter in the big picture. They might not know their age, but at least they know where they stand in society. They identify with their religion, the people around them, their houses, their socioeconomic status, their jobs. In the long run, age is just a number. Here I am, knowing that I am 18 years old and that my birthday is May 27, yet I still do not know where I belong in society. In this way, I was envious of them.

These are just a few examples of confusion I have been facing for the past couple years on identity, and unfortunately, struggling to clarify. I thought I had figured it out internally, until I was first asked “Where are you from?” at the Gandhi Ashram. This societal pressure keeps me from solidifying the ways in which I view myself. To be what is expected of me or not, that is the question. In certain circumstances, I have learned that question is hard to answer.