03 May 2012

Full Disclosure: Comfortable with Chopsticks

When I think back to the years of myself as a teeny tiny person, I never thought of my family as being out of the ordinary by any means. We moved to the US when I was three from Taiwan and lived briefly in a quaint ocean side town in the NE. We spoke Chinese, ate rice with almost every meal, used chopsticks, stayed close. When the local paper printed a picture of me during the annual town Easter egg hunt, it never occurred to me that it may have had to do with me looking different from all the other kids who were participating.

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Through elementary school and over several moves, I've always had both Asian and non friends, and where we were, it never seemed to be an issue. I lived in NYC then, and everyone was pretty much from somewhere else, so no one batted an eye if some of my Indian friends broke out into Hindi or some of my Jewish friends had to go home early for Shabbat dinner or if I had dumplings or noodles packed for my lunch.

However, as it always seems to be the case, during the years - junior and high school - when I was becoming more aware, all it seemed that I wanted to do was to fit in. Which meant I felt embarrassed about sitting next to my Asian friends when we were on the subway because we were clique-y. And of course I crushed on the cute popular white guys and wished I was the perky blonde soccer gals they hung out with. I felt self-conscious about speaking Chinese to my parents out loud when we were in public because that was weird. Going outside of the city meant that sometimes we got stared at. I felt strange about going out and eating at Chinese restaurants. Wearing something with a mandarin collar or cherry blossoms or whatever else that could be deemed even vaguely "Oriental." Doing anything that was not absolutely fit-me-in All-American.

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Silly as this may sound - because, duh, there's no escaping the fact that I am very Asian - but it has actually taken me years to be completely comfortable with myself as who I am and where I came from. Consciously or not, most of my friends through college and my early 20s were not Asian, as schools and jobs scattered my close childhood Asian friends all over the country. And for me at least, it took me now suddenly being the ONLY Asian person in most settings to be able to go back myself when I was that teeny tiny Lisa - hey, I can speak Chinese and you can't, I know the right things to order from Ming Dynasty restaurant, I'll show you how to use chopsticks, what not to do when you travel to Asia, being different is kind of cool.

Growing up, were there parts of your heritage that you were embarrassed by? What do you feel about those things in your adulthood? What are you proud of about your heritage now?

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Jacket: Zara bleached denim (sim, sim)
Dress: c/o StyleMint (worn here - sim, sim, sim)
Belt: J.Crew (sim, sim)
Necklace: Anthropologie ampay
Shoes: LifeStride utopia (sim, sim)
Bag: Brahmin sadie (worn here - sim, sim)

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There's still time to submit some pics for the next Respect the Outfits reader feature! Remember we're doing our "stylish" outtakes. Many thanks to you ladies who have already submitted your pics - and for those of you who are still interested, you can check out the details here!

37 comments:

  1. Hey Lis,

    I think a lot of us immigrant kids have to deal with this. I was born in Pakistan and grew up in Saudi Arabia, and we came to Canada when I was 10. We lived in a very white suburb where we openly mean and hostile to us, I remember once at train station they all stared at me and my family - like we were aliens, it was the worst feeling in the world.

    Now as an adult, I still find sources of frustration - because I'm a Muslim, and I see so much violence and horror carried out in the name of my religion, and that definitely embarrasses me, and makes me ashamed.

    I don't know if we ever outgrow questioning and feeling awkward as minorities in the West.

    xoxo
    ~Natasha Fatah~

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    1. Strangely for me, I felt like I had to deal with more racial-related issues when I lived in NYC than when I lived in the SW or SE. It's like of strange to me at least - NYC was built on the cultures on so many peoples yet I feel like in many ways it is still divided.

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  2. I am half Chinese, but it's actually my mother who was the foreigner in the family. She used to embarrass me when she spoke in loud Spanish or addressed me in Spanish and I would just answer back in English. Unfortunately, I no longer speak Spanish and I wish she had just overlooked my bratty-ness and continued speaking it to me. I'd be bilingual now!
    I always hated it when her friends would come over and they'd fill the house with their Latin loudness and laughter, Tango music playing in the background--how stupid was I? I LOVE tango music and dance now. Plus, people think it's pretty awesome I've got family in Buenos Aires:P

    I'm really proud of my unique-ness and my blended background. I used to also wish I was blonde and blue-eyed, but I love the way I turned out and wouldn't wish to be anyone else.

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    1. I can speak mandarin but I can't read or write. Looking back now, I wish my parents pushed me harder to learn, but kids don't get the whole "you'll appreciate it when you're older" concept, haha.

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  3. I had the same issues. But not race wise. Mine was more of a poverty issue. We grew up dirt poor. Literally. And I would get so jealous of my friends who could, for example, just pop open a bag of brand name Goldfish crackers and go to town after school (we were not able to have after school snacks because, well, first of all there were none and secondly, we knew that all the food in our house was for dinner or lunches). I would get so embarrassed when friends would come over to my little house to spend the night. It was awful. But now I relish in having been poor. I appreciate everything and it makes me so proud to be where and who I am today.

    You are beautiful and I think it is SO COOL that you can speak Chinese! Or use chopsticks for that matter. Love your striped dress today Lisa! Go girl!

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    1. Growing up, my family wasn't rich by any means, though I can't remember really needing anything. But I do still appreciate the time and sacrifices that my parents made so my sister and I could go to school and thrive!

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  4. LOVE this Ampay necklace on you Lisa!!! Super cute outfit!

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    1. This is my new favorite necklace. Totally worth full price IMO!

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  5. Forgot about the outtakes...thanks for the reminder! :o)

    Great story. It's amazing how UNaware we are as children & how quickly we become aware of our differences.

    Love the dress & necklace here - so cute!

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    1. What I miss about being a little kid is how easy it was to meet one another. Going up to someone and asking if they want to play made you a new immediate friend and it didn't really seem to matter (at least to me) back then about who or where you were from - ball is ball.

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  6. I had super long (past my waist) white-blonde hair when I was teeny-weeny, and I got teased mercilessly for it. I remember coming home from school after another round of "white headed freak" torments, sobbing, and saying my little 6-year-old prayer that I would wake up with short, black hair. This was repeated often (both the torment and the prayer) until I was in high school and all the girls started bleaching their hair to get it closer to my color.

    Sigh. Being a kid is hard, no matter what your situation is.

    xox

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    1. The good and bad thing about being a kid - kids don't have funnels for their thoughts. Or realize sometimes how things they say or do could really be hurtful to others. I used to tease a kid back in elementary school who had braces on his legs - I got in trouble for it and when I think back now, I definitely deserved it.

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  7. This is such a great post to pair with such an "American" outfit! You look so cute and summery.

    I think its really wonderful that you've hung on to your heritage through the years. As a muddled and mixed up American mutt I can't really trace back my nationality to any one place. I grew up in a mostly German area, but as a dark eyed, dark(ish) haired, olive skinned girl (with a very strong nose!) no one ever believed that I had German ancestors. I think we all wished we were the blonde haired blue eyed pretty soccer girls!! Haha! And they probably wish they knew Chinese and now they all eat dumplings and rice for lunch!

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    1. I think it is stronger for me because I am an immigrant. I am sure for my nephew for example, he's only going to be exposed to as much as his parents want him to be, and I am sure when he has kids, they are probably going to lose a bit more of their "Chinese-ness" to mesh with society.

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  8. I'm blonde haired, blue eyed with dark haired siblings and an Italian American Dad. He is fluent in.... Mandarin & Cantonese. I have been using chopsticks my whole life and was eating sushi before it was trendy. My Dad is 1st generation and I wish we would have spoken Italian growing up. My brother lived in Japan for eight yrs & he speaks Japanese to his son.

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    1. Holy crap, you dad is a talented linguist. I did 4yrs of spanish and french and am terrible at it. If I didn't start speaking mandarin, I'm sure it would have been a lost cause for me!

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  9. Great article, many people can totally relate with you interms that there are some thing we did trying to fit in that was absolutely ridiculous. sometimes, i just look back and smile or think how stupid was I.

    You look great, I like your necklace and jacket!

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    Replies
    1. When I think back to when I was little, the first thoughts of myself that usually come to mind are "naive" and "ignorant." But then it felt so free and easy then too!

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  10. This won't answer your question at all, but I'm an Indian mom who used to live in a very multicultural Dublin (Ireland). I loved the fact that my kids were going to school with children from 25 different nations. I got to know their mums and got acquainted with the different cultures - it was pure bliss to me! But I've always had a deep fascination in particular for anything Far-Eastern (sorry to lump it all under this one big giant umbrella, but I don't mind which country it is...) - it's as if it is my second adopted culture. I've never been there but when people come to my house they think I've some ancestral connection to the Far-East. I love to eat and cook the food and had some wonderful Chinese friends in Dublin. However, ever since we've moved to the countryside in the UK, I find it very hard to find friends outside of English/Indian cultures (Not a single Pakistani, Nigerian, Latvian or Chinese in this little village of ours ). I really do miss that Oriental aspect of my life. Right now, I get my fix of far-Eastern culture from watching Chinese cable (and I don't understand a single word) and going to the Chinese food store in the city! SOB...Pathetic, huh?

    As an Indian, I think I can identify with you on the 'clique-y' aspect. I am overly conscious of not sticking so much to my compatriots so as to exclude anybody else.

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    Replies
    1. I think I get what you're feeling. Back when I lived in NYC, I had friends from a lot of different cultures and we got to experience and eat a whole lot more. Nowadays, I am often the only minority in a group - which helps me to appreciate my uniqueness and heritage more, but makes it harder for me to experience as much multicturalness as I used to.

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    2. I came here when I was 17 and I pretty much identify myself as Chinese, but that is not how the Chinese came after college look at me. They somehow think I am more like the ABCs. I had the awkwardness that felt like I don't belong to either the American or Chinese culture and somehow got caught in between. Do you play Chinese chess? In the rule of Chinese chess, if the pawn cross the river, they can only go forward and never go back. I feel like I am like the pawn in Chinese chess for a long time.

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  11. Lisa I can completely relate to you on this topic. I felt the same was as you growing up. I lived in MA from age 3-13 and I was the only Japanese girl in grade school. My mom hardly spoke English so I always felt embarrassed....now that I look back I wish I knew how hard it is to live in a foreign country after growing up....I feel bad that I was embarrassed. Anyways I love your outfit!! I have the same necklace and love it...it's so versatile huh?

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  12. I love striped dresses more and more; this one is terrific on you.

    I was the dorky, homely little kid in hand-me-downs, which probably explains my fascination by clothes now :P

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  13. I've never been embarrassed of my heritage and I am now going to rifle through my closet for my faded denim moto jacket. Thanks Lisa!

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  14. Being half-Japanese, I did experience some hurtful words/gestures/etc. growing up, but it was mostly in those middle school/junior high years. Elementary school was pretty tame--I don't think very young kids even notice the "differences" among them. I would like to think that my high school peers were more mature, but I still encountered a couple of ignorant comments. Most people don't realize I'm half Asian, but they can tell I'm not 100% Caucasian--in Texas people just start speaking Spanish to me. :P

    As an adult, I wish I had had the patience as a child to learn Japanese from my mother because I can't even talk to my grandmother in Japan! Especially now that I have a 1/4 Asian baby who looks more Asian than me! LOL But I can use chopsticks...and make some really good food...

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  15. I went to a predominantly white school and as a result most of my friends were white. I never realized how different this was. I was used to being the only brown face in the crowd, having people ask me about my hair and having to explain the fact that black people actually "tan".

    I was made fun of as teen for "acting white" whatever that means. I'm the only black girl I know that knows all the lyrics to Public Enemy'sFight The Power and Van Halen's Jump;)

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  16. Fortunately for me, I was (a little) older when our family migrated so had no choice but to have my heritage ingrained in me:p... Love your striped dress!

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  17. Hey there :) Totally feel your pain. Even tho I was born in Msia I am considered an ABC (Aus born Chinese) so I can understand mandarin and I speak very fobbishly but I learnt how to read and write in uni. I was considered an outcast in Aus when we first migrated here as there were hardly any asians living where we lived. I used to be picked on - ching chong but my dad had a word with that boy who kept picking on me and it never happened again. As the years grew by I moved and there were more asians and other nationalities and people became more accepting of one another :) I guess I've learnt to toughen up :) Wow.. long comment :) Great blog topic hehe and on a fashion note love the stripes!!

    katattack2000.wordpress.com

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  18. I felt sad reading your story and just a bit worried- I am an immigrant living in the UK but I only moved here 7 years ago. As such I have a strong sense of self and do not in any way feel less than nor do I long to be anyone else/have blonde hair & blue eyes (blah to me, sorry, I adore darker skins and hair, far more beautiful to me:D).
    I grew up in a loving, middle-class home, attended good schools and had many friends- if I had a falling out with a friend or classmate no racial or colour references were ever made. If someone was mean to you it could be for any reason but never because you were the 'wrong race'. I live in UK now and I see the pervasive horrible ways minorty kids are 'forced' to fit in because conciously or not they are made to feel strange or not good enough. I feel scared because I have two daughters and I worry for them each day. I am going to do my very best to ensure they grow up secure in themselves and comfortable in their own skin and culture. Of course your own parents did their best too which shows how these racial issues can still insinuate themselves..I wish I lived in a different world.

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  19. I'm about as caucasian as is genetically possible - family history indicates we hail from Germany, Scotland, England and Denmark. I have to say, it made me feel rather dull and invisible.

    One thing I learned about my heritage is a sad secret: the English line of the family apparently had slaves. I often wish to close my eyes and pretend this isn't the case as slavery is an awful, shameful part of American history. But the (somewhat) grown-up part of me knows that the truth is important.

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  20. My mother's side of the family is Taiwanese - I have been back to Taiwan a few times to visit relatives. I grew up in Canada and I used to speak Chinese at home but when I was around 8 or so, I grew self-concious of it and stopped speaking it - now I am wishing my parents had forced me to keep up with it. As it is, I can only manage a few broken sentences, my relatives look down on me as the typical 'banana', and I can't even communicate with my grandmother. Plus I am sorry I won't be able to pass any of my Chinese heritage on to my kids, beyond being able to show them how to eat with chopsticks and cooking some authentic Chinese dishes (which I learned on my own by ordering a series of Chinese cook books that were published in Taiwan). It's really hard to hold on to another language in North America, so I am super impressed that you managed to hang on to it!!

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  21. Oh I think it's the greatest thing - to be different. I was always studying in such diverse classes...and I loved it, it was so great getting to now other people from all over the world. Needless to say, I'm simply in love with asian culture and people.

    But, on the other hand, I know what it's like - trying to fit in. When I was studying abroad it was kind of hard too. And of course, looking back now, all the worries seem irrelevant.

    But hey, I love this outfit, especially the denim jacket

    xxx
    Daria, the Fashionsurfer

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  22. Can I just say I love your blog for your great fashion sense and insightful topics?!?! :) If you lived closer, I feel like we could be great friends since this particular topic hit close to home. Though I was born in the US, I'm Vietnamese and grew up in the similar fashion you did (i.e. rice with every meal, spoke Vietnamese to my parents and grandparents, etc.) and like you, found myself constantly trying to fit into the All-American "look". I longed to have bright blue eyes, a "cool" mom who would let me go out with my friends whenever I wanted, even have lunch at the fabled country club that they always talked about. When I went off to college, the opposite happened and I joined every "Asian" organization/sorority on campus. Sadly, even then, I felt like an outsider. It felt like I was over-compensating for all the years I was trying to downplay my heritage. Fast-forward now, even though like you, I find myself in circles where I am one of the few Asians in the mix, I am proud of my background, love that my friends will ask me to order when we are at an Asian restaurant, or get complimented on how shiny and healthy my hair and how they wish they were born Asian so they can have good hair! I have a confession though...I am now happily married to a man who happens to be Caucasian and my newest fear is how to I keep my children (when we have them) balanced. It's only natural that they will likely be closer to my side of the family due to proximity, but I also don't want them to be confused either or feel even more out of place than I did growing up.

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    1. Aw, thanks, Jennie! I know I've lost a lot of my heritage from growing up in the states, but I've gained a ton too. My potential kids would be mixed too and I am concerned that due to me, they won't ever learn (or want to) Chinese that is part of their heritage and to be able to communicate with their grandparents easier!

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  23. Thanks, I am following you now. I hope you do the same. You can follow me (via GFC) by clicking this link. :)

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  24. This sounds rather familiar to me. (: I don't look all that different from your average American, but my name, to most people, is totally unpronounceable. I have a flat, east-coast American accent in English, but because of where my parents are from, my vocabulary is oddly British English. (Bloody hell, and all that.) When I was younger, my name was so embarrassing I went by a nickname all the time, and I never wanted to go anywhere with my parents because it felt like people could always tell we didn't quite fit. I could "pass" for your average American with my looks, so I spent a lot of time trying to keep my mouth shut and look the part - I even remember thinking I wanted to change my name to my nickname once I turned 18. There was nothing more humiliating than trying to tell people how it was really pronounced, and where it was from - and then where that country was, because nobody ever knew.

    As I've gotten older, though, the friends who've stuck with me over the years tend to be some combination of nationalities - French-Algerian and German, Japanese and German, Indian and Norwegian, American and Turkish - and so don't think it's too weird. (I'm ex-Yugoslav and Irish, born in the former.) And the American friends I do have, at this age, seem to think it's brilliant that I grew up in two countries and three languages, and endearing that I speak English a little funny sometimes. I'm unlikely to meet anyone else who shares my country of birth in America (except at our embassy) because it's so tiny, but somewhere in my university years it's become something interesting, instead of embarrassing. It's a recent thing that I've started to believe people when they tell me they think my name is lovely - but I'm finding I've become fond of it, too. And I feel very fortunate to have the perspective that growing up in multiple places and multiple cultures has given me, in the end.

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  25. Love the jacket. :)

    Living in Asia, specifically in the Philippines, I didn't have a hard time because although we were a minority, we were a huge minority. However, I did have lots of issues about being a "tall and wide" Asian as clothes and shoes didn't fit and I was self-conscious all the time. Took me almost all my life before finally getting into this comfortable stage where I can accept me as me. My blog was born so I can express in stages of how I'm getting there.

    http://thebelatedbloomer.blogspot.com

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