Even though I'm half Chinese, I was pretty much raised White. That means I really don't know too much about my Asian heritage.
No, I don't speak Chinese. I can't read Kanji. And I don't know how to cook Asian foods other than fried rice and egg rolls.
But it's not just the tangible things I wish I had more of in my life, not just for my own edification but so that I can pass something, anything, down to my kids.
My mother grew up in the post-World War II late '50s when it was not good to be an Asian in the United States because of Pearl Harbor, so she was forced to Americanize herself. That meant she lost how to speak Chinese once she went to public school. And any part of her culture, like the food, the customs, she pushed aside in order to fit in and be better accepted.
Even as multiculturalism became more accepted in the late '70s and early '80s, she had all but lost a lot of her culture, which meant we were exposed to very little. Other than visits with my Chinese grandparents and the few meals my mom knew how to cook, I would never have known that I was an Asian American.
Now that I have my own kids, I really long to show them that side of my history. They're only a quarter Asian but it's still part of who they are even though two of my kids are blonde! Actually, I feel even more strongly that they know because they don't look Asian.
I wish I knew all the stories of how my grandmother was brought over from China as part of an arranged marriage with my American-born grandfather to tell them. I long to tell them about my great-grandfather who was the first American-born Chinese person in Washington, DC.
I think. See, I'm not even completely sure why he would get birthday cards from the President of the United States.
But instead of wishing, I've decided to do a little digging on my own so that my kids don't feel like I do now. My cousin has done an extensive historical search of our family online and has discovered some amazing artifacts and stories that I hope to learn more about. I'm going to begin celebrating Chinese New Year with my kids and share with them the meaning it has for my family.
I'm sad that it took me so long to wonder about my past so that I can share it with my future. If "it's better late than never" ever applied to anything, I'm using it now. Here's hoping you feel motivated to do the same for yourself and your own kids.
Do you know your own cultural history?
Image via Scazon/Flickr