Students at San Francisco’s Washington High School were asked in a school assignment to respond to the question: “When is a time your identity mattered?” Senior Jessica Ruan had this answer.
JESSICA RUAN: Like many Chinese-American immigrant children, I sometimes have a cultural identity crisis, in which I am at a sense of loss. At times, I am the American-born Chinese, a.k.a. “ABC”, who speaks fluent English, who has Western ideas, or goes out with friends for a weekend lunch. Other times I am the Chinese immigrant that speaks sentences after sentences of Cantonese and Mandarin, studious and shy.
I switch identities according to my surroundings. With family, I’m more Chinese. With general people, more American. With close friends who have similar backgrounds, I am both and the happiest. On the inside, I have internal conflicts. On the outside pressures to act and behave in a certain way and criticized for not being American or Chinese enough.
I have been openly criticized by strangers on the bus just because of my skin color and appearance. Caucasians, I remember, would constantly ask if I could read the signs in English that say you are to give your seat up to the elderly and disabled. Due to their stares and harsh tone I always gave up the seats despite the fact that the person wasn’t considered elderly. They were middle aged. And I shouldn’t have to vacate my seat that wasn’t purposely designed for wheelchairs users and the elderly.
Their taunts don’t stop there. They continue on and on with racial comments degrading my other culture and its people, saying, “They’re ill-mannered can’t speak proper English, therefore a waste of money to educate. They should all return back to China.”
I wanted to scream so bad, “I can hear you and I do understand! We are the same. Your family used to be immigrants, so don’t tell me that I should return back to China and I have no right to live here.” But I never do because it would only bring embarrassment and shame to me.
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KALW's Casey Miner recorded this commentary at Washington High School in San Francisco. Hear more from Washington High seniors here.