For a lot of my life, I’ve felt embarrassed and ashamed about my culture
For a lot of my life, I’ve felt embarrassed and ashamed about my culture. My parents told me I’m Chinese but primary-school me would argue “but you came from Vietnam and we eat heaps of Vietnamese food”. High-school me would criticise Asians in general and try to be anything but Asian, whether by speaking more ‘Aussie’, watching American TV shows or listening to hip hop. Even early-adult me would get triggered every time an Anglo person called me ‘Asian’, or someone asked me “Where are you from?” in a genuinely curious way.
Over the years, I’ve found myself asking why I reacted this way. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of this shame is influenced by how our culture is perceived by the world around us. As an Asian person, I’m supposed to be a hard-working and meek maths nerd who’s also a bad driver. Who would want to be put in that box? I identified with a lot of people of colour on TV or on the radio, who also felt othered; people who are made fun of or criticised publicly for something they can’t change. For a time, this made me want to be more like people from the dominant culture.
This aspiration wasn’t sustainable though. I remember a half Latino/half African American poet talking about how we will never be the people from dominant culture and that that desire is something that’s being fed to us by society. He expressed preferring to be proud of who he was rather than trying to be something he wasn’t, just to fit in.
I then found an entry point to reconnecting with my culture, food. Seeing outspoken foodies who are truly themselves was/is inspiring! Think of David Chang, Melissa Leong, and Eddie Huang. I could learn about the food that Mum cooked when I was growing up and see these famous people be Asian in their own way.
In adulthood, I’ve been going through a slow process of reconnecting with myself through culture and some of its traditions. By shifting my attitudes over the years, I’ve allowed myself to build my own cultural identity integrating parts of my parents’ culture with parts of dominant culture that gel with me. Reflecting on this, I feel more whole compared to before and more truly connected with the world around me.