Viva la Patría

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My parents were naturalized because my second grade teacher told us that in the event of an earthquake, they couldn’t save me. They’d take a look at my green card and just move on. She asked the class to raise their hands if they were a citizen, and 25 enthusiastic arms shot up in the air, and only mine was glued to my desk.

In fact, my dad got so scared that by the next week, he started the process of rejecting our nationality in order to create a reality where I would be saved in an earthquake. Ten years later, what came instead was a numbing identity crisis. My dad and I gave up who we were for a shiny black passport and visa-free entry to Mexico–a privilege we have never used, by the way.

I used to be proud of being American, but recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about who I really am. I grew up in an environment that forced me to recite a pledge of loyalty to a piece of fabric every morning ever since I was six years old. In the decade that I have been a U.S. citizen, not once have I been called American because the color of my passport never really mattered to the people who asked, “Where are you really from?” 

But deep down, I love that question. I love telling them “I’m from China,” and seeing their eyes light up like they didn’t already imply that. I love going on tangents about how much I love China. The barbeque stalls that line the avenues of my hometown, the grandiose boulevards in Beijing where, despite my longest stay only being a few weeks, I always felt at home. Questioning my status as an American only served to deepen my love for the Chinese half of me. Being Chinese American means that I have to apply for a visa to go where I love. I think that’s the part that hurts the most. The piece of paper stapled to my passport is a painful reminder that I will never be Chinese enough in China, and here, I won’t ever be seen as a true American. Proof in print that neither of my home countries really claim me. 

I’m going to have to leave my Asian American Alhambra circle for college in a few months, and I’m excited. I can’t wait to find out more about myself in college, away from the city I have known almost my entire life, and blaze my own path to self-discovery.

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