Our Moving Stories: Episode 12 — AlanConversation with: Alan.
This podcast is hosted by Bruno Villegas and Ariadne Pacheco.
Alan was born and raised in the U.S. of Chinese born parents. The details about their decision are fuzzy, as his parents (like so many other immigrant parents) do not speak much with their children about why they migrated. He does know that they did not plan on migrating to the United States. Having a second child during the era of the One Child policy while on (what was intended to be) a two-year work sojourn, led to a change in plans, however.
Alan’s story is a classic story of assimilation. After multiple early moves, the family settled into a suburb of Chicago where there are many other Asian families.
He somewhat sheepishly confides that as a child, he was not much of an enthusiast of Chinese food—preferring a hot dog if given a choice. Nor did he enjoy or look forward to family visits to China. Most complex, is his fragile grasp of the Chinese language. While his mother is a Mandarin teacher and speaks to him in Chinese, he responds in English. As a result, when they “want to speak about deeper emotional things,” they find it difficult to do so as they “don’t share the same language.”
Alan has many Asian friends and as a result, he did not grapple much with his identity until college. He explains that prior to that, in the context that so many other peers share Asian immigrant parents, the topic of ethnicity simply did not come up as, “you don’t discuss what is everyone is experiencing.” He insightfully points out that discussing ethnic backgrounds comes through cultural contact between folks of different backgrounds. When he attended Vanderbilt, where there are few Chinese American but a large cohort of Chinese international students, he begins to grapple with the complexity of his identity. In that context, he realizes that he was not perceived as Chinese, by his Chinese international peers–suddenly he felt deeply American. He asks, “how Chinese can you authentically be if you haven’t spent that much time there?”
Alan realizes that as a member of a visible minority in the U.S., coming to terms with his identity is a complex pathway. He is drawn to teaching where there are “Zero Asian males.” In that role, he looks forward to the opportunity to be a role model to other students like him who grapple with finding their healthy ethnic racial identities.