Where do I come from? Good question. This is a great issue nowadays, with a large group of cross-cultural kids like me who cannot identify their “roots.” When your teacher asks where you are from, it might be cool to answer: “One-quarter South African, one-eighth Spanish, one-eighth Italian” and so on. But in reality, the question of where you come from can really bother you as you grow up.
If I had been asked that question 10 years ago, I would have pointed to the stars and stripes and said, “Duh! The United States of America!” with a flourish of the hand. After all, I was born in America. When I was 5, my parents decided to move back to Beijing not only because of the increasing business opportunities, but also to reunite with their family.
After my parents’ decision, I was full of resentment towards Beijing when I first arrived. My first thoughts were “lousy, lousy and more lousy” – a typical example of how little kids exaggerate things that they dislike to make them sound worse than they actually are. The buildings were flimsy and needed reconstruction, the sky was gray, cars were everywhere (but not those fancy exotic sports cars with rumbling engines), the food was terrible, and the list goes on. I could pick out a million shortcomings if I wanted to.
Even though I look Asian, I just felt like an American kid. Being a stubborn 5-year-old, I believed I was one of those “hidden immigrants” who looked like everyone else but thought differently and did not believe that he was from China. Having now lived in Beijing for almost 11 years, my Chinese is already way better than my English. Dwelling in the suburbs of Shunyi as a typical Shunyi-er, I brace myself to face the “sea of humans” waiting for the subway just like everyone else. In fact, I actually quite enjoy the Beijing lifestyle now. Besides the occasional days where the sky is gray and blurry and the air smells like chemicals, the city’s food, music, art, and culture please me.
Being born in the US, holding an American passport, and still longing for an American lifestyle – do these things necessarily mean that I am from the States? Likewise, is living in China for two-thirds of my life and having Chinese parents enough to prove that I am truly Chinese?
If I was simply an American kid, I would probably be preparing for the SATs at this point in my life; if I were a true Chinese boy, I would be working very hard to fight for
a better ranking at the standardized university exams. Either way, I would at least be able to have a sense of social identity and a clear cultural background. Right now, I am in a permanent state of bewilderment: Am I Chinese, or am I American?
I feel I am not yet able to fully answer the question: “Where are you from?” This is a question that will require a lifetime to discover. But if we were to solve it mathematically by drawing a line between America and China and finding the midpoint, then I could proudly say that the closest place to where I am from is probably … in the Mediterranean Sea, on a small island called Malta.
Dion Dong is 16 years old and attends Yew Chung International School of Beijing.