I lived in Taiwan for 7 years. For many this isn't news. For others yes I did. My father had gotten a job teaching English there so we moved there when I was one. I attended first grade there, learning English and Chinese at the same time. I spoke both fluently and did really well at school. During the day I went to a private school and learned Chinese. In the afternoons I went to the English school my father taught at.
What lesson comes from this life experience?
Well let's look at what I know now.
I am studying Chinese currently and am struggling. Tones are no problem they come naturally but the grammar is heck. Why didn't I keep up with Chinese growing up? Why? It would make my life so much easier right now.
I asked my parents that question. They simply replied: "You didn't want to".
I didn't want to? Why? This question was directed at my past-self. My 8-year old self who moved back to the U.S. and started to forget the language she grew up knowing.
The answer was simply because I wanted to fit in.
I was thrust from a world where I was adored for being a half-white child to sheltered Utah where Asians and Blacks and other ethnicity's are stared at because of their uncommon occurrence. I was teased for looking different. Hands pulling back their eyes to make them look squinty. Babbling words flying from their mouths, attempting to speak an Asian language making them sound like babbling baboons. Then there was my accent. Sooner or later it would have disappeared but I worked hard to make it not noticeable until it disappeared altogether in a short period of time.
I was trying so hard to fit in. To erase a part of me that couldn't be erased.
I felt stupid and incredibly insecure about what I looked like and who I was. In my mind I was a walking pariah to life. This continued on through life. For so long it flowed through my mind. Even when everything was okay, it wasn't.
I don't know when I gave that up. Probably as I was exiting my "Ugly Duckling" stage. I crawled out of the gulf of misery and decided no more. I know who I am and no one, absolutely no one can change that.
I am proud to be Asian. I'm proud to be Hmong. I am proud of these squinty eyes and plain brown eyes. I am proud to be me.
So this is a sort of letter or tribute to my past self. I wish you knew this. I wish you understood it at that young age. But we are human. And as humans we learn and grow. We develop and we allow challenges to either change or undermine us. I'm proud to say I allowed mine to help me grow and change. And this lesson I wish I knew as a child hasn't undermined me in a long time. This lesson as a child I wish I knew is one I now know.
Your half-Hmong, half-White friend,
唐雪莉, Sarah Enoi Torgerson, Kablias