Had a long day at work, so I'm pulling from a back-up stash of entries for when I just don't have the time.

I mentioned before that I have a very complex self identity.  Part of that was all the moving around while growing up, but another part was that initial move.  Since I was only three and a half when I immigrated from China, I could be first or second generation American, depending on how you want to look at it.  That is probably why I always called myself the 1.5 generation (not knowing that it is actually a recognized term!).

I could be first generation if you feel that anyone who personally immigrated is the first generation, or the children of those immigrants are the first generation.  I could be second generation if you feel that the children of the immigrants are the second generation.  However, children of immigrants are typically assumed to be born in the US rather than brought over at a young age.  So, I don't fit very neatly into any of the more traditional ways of viewing immigrant generations.  It's all very confusing.

I always grew up thinking that first generation meant that you were the first to enter the country.  However, that would put my parents and I on an even field, which didn't make sense.  Hence, the one and a half generation - because I was born abroad, but grew up here.  There are plenty of others who did the same and they may be equally confused as to what generation they are considered.

So I never knew if I was an immigrant because I had an alien card or if I was American because I became a naturalized citizen?  Well, as it turns out, these things never have easy answers and I just accept being a little of both.  Neither one really, yet both at the same time.  This is how I imagine it would be to be a biracial or multiracial person.  You are at once all of your parts, but none of them individually, and the sum of your parts does not equal an even whole, but more than that, with the interaction of the parts.

Rather than be confused or upset by this, I find it rather amusing and fun.  It certainly makes for a lively conversation if the topic comes up.  Self identity is such a complex issue; it can't really be simple for anyone.  So, I like to think of its nuances from time to time, but I never really worry myself about it.  We've all got to find our way in life and this is only part of the discovery.  Then there's figuring out what we to define our lives by, in terms of our hobbies, abilities, lifestyle, and occupation.

This issue is only the tip of the iceberg!  There's a lot we can identify ourselves with, which changes over time too.  So you know what, I'm not about to have an identity crisis.  It's cool.  Who am I?  Well, you'll just have to see.

 
 

I just overheard my mom on the phone, booking her plane ticket to Mongolia, due to leave just about 12 hours after mine to Singapore leaves LAX.  The past couple of days she has been lamenting what to do about our mail, since many statements cannot be sent to P.O. boxes and there is no one in our family here to take care of it for us.  We used to get it forwarded to a family friend's place, but that's such a hassle to do for just a month or two.

Now that I'm leaving the country, my mom is left to figure out what to do with the house (and her life) again.  When I was studying abroad in England, she rented it out and moved back to China with my dad.  Should she do that again or stick around to try to pursue a career in aerospace, as she's dreamed of doing?  Strangely enough, my life is what gives her some stability - whenever I'm around, she can stay at home and do various types of work happily.  Yet, once I leave, she needs to figure what her life is about, sans moi.

All of this made me think of the fragmented time I spent with my parents growing up and how multiple moves affected my sense of independence.  It's no wonder I did become so independent, what with one parent or the other often away and our family hardly ever staying in one place long enough to make lasting friends.  As I grew older, it became my time to be away from home and friends on my own - to swim camps, to boot camps, to a swim competition in Australia, and the frequent visits to my relatives in China.  Another factor contributing to my independence was early on: I didn't even meet my parents until I was three and a half (my dad left six months before I was born and my mom left six months after I was born, so I hardly remembered her).

In the early days, my parents were busy finishing up their graduate degrees at Penn State - a Master's for my mother and a Doctorate for my father.  To support us, they had to be research assistants and my dad worked as a teaching assistant as well.  From there, it was off to Kansas, where my dad worked for the government and my mom found a random job with Payless Shoes.  I would come home to an empty house and do homework or play by myself.  I think that's when my desire for a sibling or pet began to grow, as I spent many quiet afternoons alone in the house, waiting for my mom to get home from work.  I had one or two good friends, but mostly kept to myself.  I enjoyed playing around during recess, but I rarely mixed home life with school life.

Three years later I was sent back to China for a year to reacquaint myself with the culture and language.  It was a blissful time of no homework, no worries, since I was so far behind in all the subjects - except for English, where I was so far ahead - that I was kind of just a dead weight in class.  Nevertheless, the kids loved me because this little 3rd grader was stronger than the 6th graders, and faster than anyone in school.  I didn't really contact my parents much during that year and when I returned to the US, I had no viable way of staying in touch with my friends from that school.

When we moved to Missouri, my dad had been working there for awhile.  He had secured a position with a company that kept him traveling as he and my mom started their own company, so my mom went back to China for two or three years to work on that.  The internet had just gone public and I was immersed in the world of HTML, making a variety of websites that I have since forgotten about.  I was also an extreme bookworm, preferring to spend time poring over novels to that of physical company.  At school, I was a social butterfly, known by everyone but not close to many.

By the time we made the move to New York, I was in the smack middle of my middle school years.  Afraid that I would get gaps in my knowledge if I took the honors track for math and science, my counselor advised me to follow the normal track and then test out of it after 8th grade.  The classes, unfortunately, were far too easy and filled with immature peers who I did not connect with.  My close set of friends didn't have many classes with me, since they were all on the honors track.  After finishing middle school, I found that this test that my counselor talked about did not exist.  I was stuck.  Meanwhile, my mom busied herself with the stock market as my dad worked hard at his new Vice President position, often going on business trips.

During my freshman year of high school, I took a math class that was nearly a joke for me - algebra.  I aced nearly all of the tests and quizzes and got a disappointing 99 on my final.  Frustrated with the lack of challenge, my mom had me talk to my teacher to find out what I would need to know for the next level of math.  I spent that next summer learning geometry with my mother, meticulously practicing, learning, and writing out homework.  At the beginning of my sophomore year, we took all the paperwork to the principal and my new counselor to show them that I had mastered the material.  It was agreed that I should be allowed to learn trig at that point, however, I still had to attend geometry class.  (Apparently a New York State law that I needed to spend a certain number of hours in the classroom - utterly useless.)  So, I took two math classes simultaneously that year (along with either other classes, ensuring I never had a lunch period).  Though I finally caught up academically, socially it was a bit too late - the honors track students had already formed their cliques.  And I was not a part of them.

My dad had moved to Texas when his company moved headquarters and waited there for us to move there to join him sometime in the future.  Instead, a headhunter found him and convinced him to take a new position as VP over in a Californian company.  So, with just two weeks notice in the summer following my sophomore year, we packed up and moved across the nation.  Being that it was summer, not many people knew what had happened to me and why I left.  Once again I had been the social butterfly, knowing everyone in my grade, but hardly close to any of them.  Only my closest group of friends saw me off and the rest of the school I didn't know well enough to call up to inform.

I started life anew in California as a junior.  With just two years of high school left and a lot of focus on college prep work, I made friends only with people in my classes, on my swim team, and in my JROTC unit.  This was the most present my parents had ever been, but I was far too busy with schoolwork, SAT prep, ROTC training, swim practice, and meets to really spend time with them.  For the last blissful weeks of high school, I lived it up driving around with my friends and enjoying life after APs and before college.

Then came UCLA, where I was so busy with being a college student that I only went home when I needed to do laundry.  When I was about to start my second year, my dad moved back to China to work and has been there ever since.  My third year of college I went abroad and by the time I returned, my mom had joined my dad in China.  I spent my fourth year and extra quarter on my own in this country before my mom came back to join me until I found a job.  Now I'll be off to Singapore and by the time I get back, who knows how things will be.

So you see, much of my life was spent with my parents traveling around or busy at work.  I had a lot of time to myself in the afternoons when I came back from school and spent many years away from them.  Even when we are together, we all are busy with our own obligations, so I don't just hang out with them much.  In fact, the only true bonding we get is the periodic family outings we go on - road trips my dad concocts to all kinds of places.  It's been an interesting lifestyle and it just amuses me that in a week, our family will once again be split amongst three different countries.  I do love being independent and traveling a lot, but eventually I'd like to settle somewhere long-term to have as a home base.

 
 

I am not sure how it happened, but 8Asians started to follow me on Twitter!  When I was notified of this, it got me to go back to their site to read some of their entries.  I eventually came across an article about teaching your kid Chinese, as a response to an article that the author had read about the decision to not teach your kid Chinese.  It was interesting to see the perspectives on this issue, being one who went through years of Chinese school.  Though I hated getting up on Sunday mornings to go learn, the extra homework that inevitably came with extra schooling, and the difficulty of learning the characters, it is something that I am tremendously grateful for.

So I, for one, lie on the side preferring bilingualism.  I grew up speaking Mandarin at home and English at school.  Any notion that children will get "confused" learning two languages simultaneously is absolutely absurd.  I've never had a problem with that, not even accidentally saying a single word in the wrong language.  Some people seem to have it in their minds that integrating two languages into learning is conflicting, but it certainly is not.  That's the beauty of a young mind.  It can pick up on so much so effortlessly (or at least so it seems).

As I read through comments to those posts, I started to think: it's not just about the communication aspect.  Being bilingual (or multilingual) opens the doors to be bicultural.  And to be multicultural is to understand.  That is not something that can be learned very easily either.  Though plenty of people in their adult lives can move elsewhere and adopt their new culture, a lot of the old culture still remains at odds with the new one.  It's not easy to balance the differing views.  Growing up learning to mesh them, however, could give you a worldly view on things.

Plus, from a practical point of view, if you want to stay in touch with your family abroad and allow everyone in your family to understand each other, it's an important skill to have.  Otherwise, you will end up having to translate (or be translated for) at family gatherings.  I have always prided myself in my Mandarin fluency - it allows me to get around as I need to when I am visiting the country and it allows me to interact with my relatives without needing my parents to translate.  Just by knowing the language, I feel so much more connected to the culture too, since so much of it has historical and cultural roots.

I think the older generations also respect you more if you know the language(s) of your heritage.  So many of them shake their heads and mutter to themselves when they hear of other children who don't know the language or can barely get by with it.  For me, however, they are either proud that I can speak to them or holding back from their mutterings because they know I'd understand what they're saying.  It gives you so much more freedom.

Now I can understand parents who may want to wait for their child to start learning another language (like the lady in the article mentioned above, about not teaching your kid Chinese).  For the first few years, it will be relatively easy for them to pick up on the language, so there's no need to throw them into lessons when they're still learning to walk.  This is especially true for people who may not be native speakers themselves, since there isn't much they could teach the child.  However, I do think that anyone of a heritage growing up in a culture other than the one they were born to should start learning the language sometime in elementary school.

I certainly want any of my future offspring to be bilingual, if not multilingual.

 
 

This is a thought that comes up periodically in my life.  It's not that I'm a nomad, but I have no true hometown to speak of.  I am not really "native" to anywhere.  Though I was born in China, I grew up in the United States.  Does that make me "native American" (as opposed to Native American)?  I don't feel so.  Then do I feel Chinese?  Not enough, especially when I go back to visit and the very way I look and hold myself gives me away immediately.  Plus, my way of thought is greatly influenced by the American culture.

Being Chinese-American has always posed a slight problem for my identity.  I am equally both?  More one or the other?  I didn't grow up questioning this, but it's always tricky to answer that inevitable question: "So, where are you from?"  Where am I from originally?  Where am I from now?  Where is my parents' home?  It's complicated, so I usually try to answer with whatever it seems they were looking for.  But really, what am I?

I lived in China for three and a half years (split between Shenyang and Jieshou), Pennsylvania for two years, Kansas for three, back to China for one, Kansas for another one, Missouri for two and a half, New York for three and a half, California for four (split between Valencia for two years and Westwood for the other two), England for one, California for another year and a half, and now Singapore for six months.  So you tell me, which is my hometown?

Even if I were to claim American roots, where do I belong?  The East Coast?  The West Coast?  The Midwest?  I even almost moved to Texas (and would still like to for awhile).

All I know is that England and Singapore are out the running, since they were rather brief stints that didn't occur until adulthood (not that I feel like an adult).  One was for studying abroad and now the other is for working abroad.  Since they are not permanent relocations, it's easy to rule them out.  However, that still leaves the eight major areas I have lived in.

I don't look American because I am Asian.  I don't look Chinese because I have been out of the country for too long.  I don't really fit in to either place like a native would.  I've stayed in places long enough to get to know the area, but not enough to leave a lasting imprint.  Most of my childhood friends would have been lost to me were it not for Facebook.  Yet, even after finding people I knew early on, things have changed so much that we don't even know each other anymore.  Sure, they look similar to what I remember them to be, but watching them mature and go on their own paths... well, that is not something you can really predict from elementary school!

I am quite comfortable with all of this though.  I don't mind being seen as an outsider sometimes.  I still feel at ease where I am and with who I am.  It's just hard to explain to anyone.  I am a melting pot of East meets West, East Coast meets West Coast.  There are so many different factors that shaped my opinions, from my cultural background and upbringing to assimilating into a new culture and traveling the world to experience more.  So if you really want to know where I'm from and how I think, grab a seat, get some tea, and we'll chat...