When I was a child I used to always see my ‘Chinese-ness’ as a disadvantage because it set me apart as someone “other.” I was an Asian-looking girl growing up in a small country town where no one else in her grade of 120 pupils was any shade of Asian. I often felt certain people treated me differently or worse based on nothing else but my ethnicity. It was the 90s, and Pauline Hansen was on the TV making speeches about Australia becoming overrun with Asians, and I felt like you could never truly belong without being white.
This feeling hung with me for a long time, even after I moved to the more multicultural town of Wollongong. As a young adolescent, I often felt self-conscious walking with my extended family down the street, because I was worried we would be perceived as a “pack of Asians.” I mean we were, but all I heard during my childhood was that this was a negative thing.
It was probably only in my mid-late teens that I began to fully embrace and accept my ethnicity. I went on exchange to Germany in year 10 and felt more Australian there than I ever had, probably because everyone around me was so obviously not. After I got back, I put much more effort into improving my Chinese and learning about my cultural heritage. I’m not sure why. Maybe because going on exchange at 15 forces you to confront a lot of fears, so it helped me to become braver and face other fears I had around language and identity when I came back. I had wanted to reconnect with my Chinese roots for a long time and it was kind of like a reset button for me to turn over a new leaf.
Cultural identity is not really an issue for me anymore. Partially because where I currently live and work is one of the most culturally diverse and accepting postcodes in Australia, and partially because I am just a lot more comfortable in my own skin. I wish someone would make a movie about an Asian growing up in Western society though. Honestly, I don’t relate to the American nuclear family that much.