You might be wondering why?
Why would anyone take the time and energy to capture these stories? Why are these stories so important to you? Why should I read them?
Well, here is my answer.
Before I studied abroad in France, I didn’t feel like I belonged in America at all. As a child of Chinese immigrants in the American South, I struggled to find an identity growing up in a culturally Chinese home, engulfed by the entirety of America. I felt ashamed of my parents, their broken English, and ultimately myself. I ran away from being Chinese and tried to become more ‘American’, or what I thought being ‘American’ meant: playing sports, eating pizza, wearing makeup, going on dates. I didn’t want to admit it, but part of my desire to go to France stemmed from a deeper desire to escape the uncomfortable reality of feeling foreign in the country I had lived in for my entire life.
What surprised me about going to France was not feeling foreign, but the heavy realization that I had no cultural home. I was jealous of the French who had five names of royal descent, whose ancestors lived and walked across the same Pont d’Alexandre and shared the same mother tongue. When my parents decided to immigrate to the United States, did they know they were uprooting a family tree thousands of years old? Did they know they could never go back the same way they had come?
In France, I wasn’t American because I had Chinese origins. I wasn’t Chinese because I lived in America, didn’t speak the language, didn’t understand the culture. Being in France taught me something I never could have learned in America: that I am not of a single culture, but a bridge in between–the bridge that understands that when a French man calls me chinoise and not americaine, it's because in his culture race is inextricably tied to origin. The bridge that understands that when my Chinese American friend takes his own life, it's because he comes from a culture where depression has no name. The bridge that understands that when my mother says wear a jacket she means I love you.
When I came back to America, I didn’t feel like a foreigner anymore. I felt like I had finally learned how to accept that home is divided by an ocean, crosses generational lines, and is constantly growing and shaped by our experiences. I wanted to share my story and give others a chance to verbalize and validate their complex feelings about their experience growing up amongst different cultures. My goal for I, America is to not only encourage understanding and empathy among people of different backgrounds, but to encourage a celebration of that diversity.
It is my hope that you will find yourself in some of these stories, and that if you don’t, to add to the conversation.
Special Thanks to Esther Amaku for her incredible design vision for what this could be. This would not be possible without her talent and her story.