I’m Not Chinese Anymore and I’m Never Going to be an American
I could open this piece with a clear statement, a thesis or controlling idea of some sort—a brief preview for you, my reader, of what is to come and what is to be told. However, I won't.
Instead, please close your eyes for a minute—just for a minute—and imagine yourself sitting before a young East Asian girl. You know she's East Asian because of her black hair, off-white skin, a pair of ebony eyes and a nose that is just a bit too flat to be mistaken for an Indian. Sitting in an armchair with her left arm supporting her cheek, she stares at you for a little while then starts to speak—slowly, thoughtfully, almost tonelessly:
"I was born in China and came to United States about four years ago, when I was thirteen. I had no idea what the world was then, even though I thought I did. And this very moment, four years later, I still have no idea what the world is. I've seen more parts of it, true. But the puzzle pieces refuse to come together somehow. People often ask me if I'm a Chinese living in America or an American born in China. An unanswerable question, yet how can you hope to understand life without knowing who you are? I am not Chinese anymore; there is no purpose in denying it. But I am not—and I don't want to be—an American. Not completely…not like this."
Now open your eyes, silently think for a few moments about what she said, and return to my words—or rather, echoes of someone else'.
"…Being Mexican-American is tough. The Anglos jump all over you if you don't speak English perfectly. Mexicans jump all over you if you don't speak Spanish perfectly. We gotta be twice as perfect as everyone else," so said a character from the 1997 hit movie "Selena." To me, this statement is faintly humorous on the surface, yet beneath that it contains a certain sad personal truth that is validated in Judith Ortiz Cofer's personal essay "Silent Dancing." The question of and the quest for cultural identity have always haunted countless immigrants in ways that are at once unique and profound. Unfortunately, the search for such a new identity all too often proves to be a painful and fruitless odyssey. Yet like the water that's always attracted by gravity, the human soul is constantly and relentlessly evolving—along with the world around it. Thus in the end, we often are left only with ourselves rather than labels and concepts.
As the Mexican-Americans in "Selena" and the Puerto Rican immigrants in "Silent Dancing," the immigrants I know, myself included, left our motherlands in hope to remold our lives for the better. The reality that we face, however, can be a harsh and restless one. Cofer's "Silent Dancing" probes into the stark contrasts that exist between the American and Hispanic culture and the immigrants' attempts to reconciliate their past with their future. At the end, the questions hang heavily in the air for Cofer's family and countless other immigrant families alike: Who...