ABC-American Born Chinese
by Charley Lu ’05
It seems like my entire life has been an endless search for my place in the community and the world. Well, the search finally came to an end when I arrived at Deerfield.
A sense of belonging is a powerful feeling. Belonging in a group of friends allows for someone to have confidence in himself and to open himself up to others, giving him courage and support. Looking back on my childhood, I now realize this is the feeling that I lacked. I took my first steps in the United States when I was three. Back in China, I was recognized and acknowledged as a citizen. Here I was a foreigner. But, despite the feelings that I didn’t belong here, this was where my future was going to be.
First I had to learn the language. My mother had an interesting way of learning English. Her philosophy was that if you want to learn a new language you have to listen to it as much as possible. Thus my mother and I spent three hours each day watching soap operas. My favorite was General Hospital. Not only did I learn some vocabulary and lingo, I learned that in the American culture everyone had big issues in their lives and something tragic happened every day.
With my new artillery of knowledge, I was off to preschool. Preschool days were happy days. It didn’t matter that my hair was darker or that my English wasn’t as good as the other kids. Here I was accepted.
It wasn’t until elementary school that my peers began to notice the differences between me and the other students. Aside from my hair, they commented on my slightly tanner skin color. They noticed that for snack time I didn’t bring Pringles Chips or Dunkaroos like everyone else but instead pulled from my lunch bag strange Chinese treats. Wearing glasses didn’t help my case either. My peers tagged me with the Asian stereotype. I was supposed to be good at math and science. I must play either the piano or violin. I couldn’t be athletic. Sadly, this was exactly how my life went from elementary to middle school. I was a nerd, one of the lowest of the childhood social classes. As a nerd, I secretly wanted to be one of the “cool” kids but my popularity was strictly limited to the classroom. Whenever the teacher assigned projects that required partners, everyone swarmed to me like I was a rock star giving out autographs but I knew they wanted to be my partner for my knowledge, not for who I was.
I started to attend Chinese school on Friday nights. It was there that I finally felt a sense of belonging. The other kids that attended these classes with me were from similar backgrounds. These kids gave me confidence and support so I could be myself. I was no longer a nerd, nor was I shy. To my surprise, I was, in fact, very much a gregarious person with excellent social skills. Now I led two lives; one as the nerdy introvert and the other as the courageous extrovert.
During the winter of eighth grade I learned that my family was returning to China for the lunar New Year. I was ecstatic. This would be my first time back in China since I left at three. I imagined that in China I wouldn’t feel like such a foreigner anymore. I would fit in with everyone else. How wrong I turned out to be.
One day my uncle took my brother and me out to lunch. Since the menu was in Chinese, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to use what I had learned all those Friday nights at Chinese school. I said to my uncle, “Wo yao shoa long bao.” (I want dumplings). After completing this phrase, I overheard a lady sitting not far from our table snicker and say in Chinese, “That boy speaks like a foreigner!” That did it. The wall had finally crumbled. I realized that I had no place here. Instead of the comfort I expected, I felt more foreign here than I did back in the States. In China, I wasn’t Chinese. I was what they called an ABC (American Born Chinese).
Deerfield provided me all the belonging I ever longed for. Here, diversity was accepted and not shunned. I became friends with Caucasians, Hispanics, Blacks and other Asians as well. Despite our ethnic differences we found that we all shared some common ground. The strength I gained from these bonds allowed me to explore myself outside of my stereotypical limitations. At Deerfield I lost my interest in violin and piano and began to express more fascination with sports. Deerfield filled a huge void of my childhood. I understand that I am different from many of my peers. But differences don’t matter; it’s the things we have in common that are important. Sharing brings everyone together and leaves everyone with a sense of belonging.