reclaimingasia: I am American born Chinese, but I was born and raised in a racially diverse...
I am American born Chinese, but I was born and raised in a racially diverse neighborhood, so I do not have the experiences of being “the token Asian” in any school I have ever attended.
However I do have many experiences of being mocked by my peers, my parents friends, and my own relatives for not being fluent in a Chinese language. Despite Cantonese being my first language, my fluency eventually faded as the schools I go to are all English speaking and the only times I ever have to speak in Cantonese was with my family. I also never learned how to read or write, but that did not matter as much as not being able to speak it well.
For a long time I only know basic sentences in Cantonese so I cannot really engage in a full conversation with others. It was only until last year where I have finally started taking a Chinese language class in High school, but it was Mandarin, so I was as new as the whole class. Even though I currently have an A in that class and is quite ahead of most of the students, my fluency is still bare bones compared to the many other Mandarin speakers.
Whenever my lack of fluency has been brought up, it really hurts, it makes me feel excluded. I always hear “Why can’t your daughter speak Cantonese? She’s Chinese!” from my parents friends and relatives. Even if they’re saying it in Cantonese, I could still understand it word for word.
If you’re thinking “Why didn’t my parents teach me?”, I’ve been asking that myself many times, but never had the motivation or trust to ask my parents to teach me since I wasn’t really thinking about my identity that much until my late freshman year, plus they’re really harsh when it comes to teaching.
I know as of right now, my Cantonese and Mandarin are really mediocre, but I know I will get better in the future. Because I decided to learn my ancestral language instead of letting it fade away.
If I want to display a shout-out message out there, it would be that if you’re an American born Asian but you can’t speak your ancestral language that well, you’re not alone, and that does not make you any less Asian. If you’re trying to learn your ancestral language, never give up, even if more fluent speakers mock you, don’t let that put you down, it’s a long path, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be accomplished.
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