The battle over culture fought within

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The battle over culture fought within

Teenagers from around the world move to the United States for various reasons ― education, family ties or career opportunities. Those who are fortunate enough (or whose family is rich enough) to gain entry reap the benefits of the American education system, which is highly admired around the world.
But learning does not stop when the students step out of the classroom. As impressionable teenagers hang out with their peers, they are introduced to American culture, which often clashes with their own culture. Sometimes, they are forced to choose between two quite different belief systems, and such decisions usually amount to choosing between family and friendships.
The second generation, those whose parents immigrated to the United States, face different challenges. Because they were born and grew up in the United States, their mother tongue is English. Parents may try to teach them their cultural heritage and language, but it is hard for them to take in more than a basic understanding. This generation is often very conscious of its ethnic background, and can be heavily influenced by it. Nonetheless, they are simply not exposed to their parents’ culture enough to acquire what it takes to define themselves as strictly part of their ethnic group -- eventhough this is how others might define them. Some attempt to find their heritage, some stick to their American identity.
Following are the brief observations of five students who came to Ann Arbor, Michigan, at various times and ended up at the same high school. But they find themselves occupying different places on the spectrum of cultural and ethnic identity.


Chen Wang, who left China seven years ago, still holds a Chinese passport.

Recently, I began to wonder about who I am. Although my first language is Mandarin Chinese, I can express myself more freely in English than in my mother tongue. My parents did not raise me as an authentic Chinese woman partly because of my surroundings and partly because they are liberal thinkers. Compared with my peers in China, I enjoy more freedom and opportunity and a better education because I am in America.
Though I take pride in the fact that I still have a Chinese passport, I have to admit that I am Americanized. It is as if there were a current pushing me farther away from my home shores and they are close to vanishing beyond the horizon. Yet there are some things only my Chinese friends understand, for example, our parents and their views, especially when it comes to dating. I hope this does not sound racist, but there are some things that I just cannot tell some of my non-Chinese friends. I feel like I will always be a foreigner to Americans. Everyone knows I am Chinese from my appearance and name, even though I speak just like a native English speaker.
On the other hand, I do not have what it takes to be a genuine Chinese, such as proficiency in the Chinese language or deep cultural identity. Though my parents are Chinese, and they cook nothing but Chinese food at home, my upbringing has been nothing close to that of a typical young person in China.
I am still unsure of my identity. So far, what I have found is that I am neither this nor that. I am scared. When the fog rolls away, what will it reveal, a true banana? Yellow on the outside, but white on the inside?

Jin Wei (Jane) Ni has lived in America nine years. She plans to return to China one day.

Even after my family moved to the United States, my parents continued to raise me like a Chinese girl, in other words, very strictly. I did not have many problems with it until the 11th grade, when my views and my parents’ views began to clash. Living among American teenagers, I sometimes wanted to hang out with my friends and have fun, whereas my parents thought I should stay at home and be productive (as in study or work). I was upset when they scolded me for going out too much, when in fact I had to miss most of the picnics and movies and leave the all-night parties at eight o’clock. However, I do understand why they are so protective, and I feel sorry for making them worry. No matter how strict they are, I love them, and whatever their view may be, that is a part of the culture I love.
My cultural links to China are stronger than ever. Although Uncle Sam totally changed my life, it has not affected my paying homage to my Chinese heritage. I will always identify myself as Chinese, no matter where I am, and I will always be very proud of my country and culture.
It is as important for young Chinese people living in the United States to learn Chinese culture, history and identity as it is to learn American history. What grieves me is that many overseas Chinese are losing their allegiance to China. Once they move to the United States for a better life and acquire a certain degree of stability, I see many of them forgetting the motherland. Confucius said that loyalty comes before filial duty, but perhaps his words have faded from people’s minds.
My wish is to see more young Chinese people say, "I am proud to be Chinese." One day, I shall return to China to make a difference for my people. Yes, my people.

Amanda Willy is U.S.-born. Her mother is Filipino and her father is American.

Living with biologist parents is a cool thing. From time to time, my parents tell me about really interesting things, which most of my friends deem boring. Though my parents work in the same field, their perspectives come from totally different places. So when someone asks me what I am, I say I’m a “halfy.” However, I am only genetically halfy. In terms of my nationality, upbringing, belief system and cultural influence, I am an American.
Even though my mother has rather conservative Filipino views on various aspects of life, I was raised like a typical American teenager. My parents taught me responsibility and independence with their trust. While some of my Asian friends were suffocating from their parents’ protective grip, I hung out with people until after midnight, and my father did not have any problem with this as long as he knew where I was. As for my mother, she did not like me doing it, but she knew I would not do anything bad so she let me do as I wished.
I am an American. Though people do recognize that there is something running through my veins other than Caucasian blood, I grew up in America to be American. I do understand Tagalog (Philippine native language) somewhat and could speak a few words, but my cultural ties with the Filipino people are next to none. In fact, I have never felt like I am a part of Filipino culture even during my two-year visit to the Philippines. Our values and priorities are just too different. I’ve never suffered the cultural restraints that my Filipino peers know as a part of life. If I were to move to the Philippines to live, I would be scared and out of place. In fact, the only place I have been discriminated against is the Philippines, where Americans are assumed to be rich, so they are overcharged.

Raphaelle Monty arrived in America from France seven years ago. She says 9/11 changed her life.

After watching the live broadcast of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks and the seemingly endless reports on the war on terrorism, I had to wonder about my American identity.
I have been a U.S. citizen since the day I was born -- in France -- and I identify myself as French and American, no hyphen. That may seem to be playing with words, but to me, the two identities are distinct and separate. I know my cultural roots are in France and I never doubted the fact that I am French. That is why it was so shocking to realize I love the United States and I am ready to sacrifice my life for this country as much as I am for France. When I saw the terrorist attacks, I was just as enraged as any American. I discovered that I am more American than I thought.
American pop culture is an essential part of my life. On the wall of my room is a large poster of Kurt Cobain, and my CD player often blasts out The White Stripes. I am always well informed on current events, both national and international. Just like my American friends, I complain, and I relish the divine taste of White Castle burgers. I am American.
Nonetheless, when I saw the French soccer team lose in the 2002 World Cup I was disappointed, and I also rooted for Jacques Chirac during the war against Iraq. Of course, I deem Freedom Fries ridiculous. I am still French.
I love French culture. It is very rich. The language is beautiful and the food exquisite. Its cultural and historical heritage is incredibly complex and interesting. I feel proud to be French ― perhaps because the French are a bit snobbish and too proud. But at the same time, I really do love Kurt Cobain.

In-hoon Choi, the writer, left Korea three years ago. He says America broadened his thinking.

Three years ago, when I first moved to the United States, my parents warned me that my success in a foreign country would depend on resisting my desire to seek comfort. If I wanted to, I could have just hung out with Koreans, watched Korean TV, gone to Korean restaurants and sung Korean songs. But it was not too hard for me to keep a certain distance from Koreans. Instead, I met incredible non-Korean friends to freely share thoughts and perspectives.
My views and ideas have slowly changed. I was introduced to American pop culture and a lively youth debate culture. While discussing political, social and cultural issues, I was able to solidify my ideas. Exposure to numerous ideas from all over the globe diversified my limited mindset. It was just great.
But then I heard from a friend that I sound like the American actors in the movies. Perhaps I’m more Americanized than I thought. The idea suddenly hit me: "Am I still a Korean, when I think, act and talk differently than typical Korean people?" I tried not to worry about it too much, for being something other than Korean was not an option for me, but when I noticed my reluctance to hang around Korean friends, I had to ponder the idea more seriously.
My best friend helped me understand the reason I doubted my identity. I was shaping my definition of Korean-ness based on the way most Koreans behave. I do not have to do that. One thing America has taught me is that everyone is different and we must respect such differences. I love my country, and I am proud to be Korean. As long as I have that in my heart, or rather, as long as any Korean has that idea inscribed in his heart, he is a true Korean.

by In-hoon Choi
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