The other day, my friends and I were talking about our first impressions of each other, and whether or not they’d changed over the years. When it was my turn, one of my friends told me she’d initially thought I was English Canadian. Another friend immediately piped up, saying she’d had the impression that I was Japanese at first, while someone else confessed that she’d always thought I was mixed. Evidently, I am, shall we say, ethnically ambiguous.
I responded to this sudden barrage of revelations with casual laughter. “I’m Chinese,” I told them, even though we all knew that’s not entirely correct. Yes, it’s true that my ancestors are from the geographic area currently defined as China, but my family’s heritage is certainly not how I define myself as an individual, especially from a cultural perspective.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not, repeat, do not feel any shame about being Chinese. But to be perfectly frank, I don’t feel particularly Chinese most of the time. There’s a reason why I tell people I’m from Hong Kong, not China---because politics aside, there is a cultural divide. My hometown is Toronto, not the rural Chinese village where my ancestors happened to be reared. I prefer Starbucks to bubble tea, for God’s sake. Is it really a surprise that I’ve been branded a “gwai mui zai; little foreign girl” by so many clucking relatives?
To be honest, it’s not so much the meaning of the phrase as the disapproving tone in which it’s always spoken, the implication being that behaving outside of your culture is downright wrong. But in a world that’s so globalized, it’s become increasingly difficult for people to define themselves by one culture, one set of values or norms. Pardon me for being brainwashed by the IBO’s mission statement (I am, after all, a “global citizen”), but I don’t see the immorality in being a bit of everything. After all, who you are has less to do with what DNA you carry and more to do with the culture(s) with which you actively identify.
The way I see it, it’s time people embraced being mixed, literally and/or metaphorically. As for me, I’m proud to be a mosaic, in which each part of me is proudly displayed for the world to take or leave.
COMMENT BELOW: Could a "pure-bred" person who's hasn't experienced "other" cultures first hand, still achieve a global mindset? In your opinion, what ingredients are essential to nurture "global citizens"?
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