Identity. A simple word with a straightforward meaning. But for second-generation Asian Australians like myself, it’s not that simple.
I’d like to preface by saying that I am defining ‘Second Generation’ as offspring of parents who came to live in a particular country. Trying to find a place to fit in has always been incredibly ambiguous for me growing up. A lot of my childhood was teetering between not understanding why my lunches at school were perceived strangely and speaking broken Cantonese to my grandparents who didn’t speak English.
In a survey led by Professor Kevin Dunn, 6000 respondents examined issues in regards to cultural differences, tolerance of specific groups and racial hierarchy. It was found that 48.6%, believe people from racial, ethnic, cultural and religious minorities groups should behave more like mainstream Australians. It’s not that I knew of assimilation or thought I needed to be more “Australian”, it was rather that I always felt I never truly belonged to any culture. It wasn’t a time where kids bringing in bento boxes in school was popular. Nor was it a time that my family understood what it meant to feel “like part of the group” at school.
Where could I fit in, if it wasn’t with my friends or my family?
My hardest years understanding my identity was during high school. I understood that I was different but that didn’t make the process any easier. In fact, it made a lot of experiences very conflicting. Where could I fit in, if it wasn’t with my friends or my family? It felt like being okay at everything but great at nothing.
But as I look back on my past, I think it’s important to reevaluate my beliefs. Because surely your identity is only as strong as your beliefs, right? As a teenager, it’s hard enough to know where you fit in or even who you are…add that to not being able to communicate to people properly, it’s no wonder many second-generation Asian-Australians find themselves struggling to feel like they have a place.
Now as I sit here, a full grown adult, I acknowledge that 1) I’ve grown as a person, 2) what is important to me has changed and 3) I’m a lot more comfortable with who I am. All 3 of those points probably all overlap but I like to think that because I now know what is important to me, I have a lot more comfort in myself. Seems like a very obvious conclusion, but like everything in life – it never seems that way when you’re in the heat of it.
Identity is a belief as much as it’s a feeling
So where too now? It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be one or the other. I CAN identify with some parts of being Australian and other aspects of being Chinese and it’s completely up to oneself as to what parts of both cultures resonate within me. At the end of the day, a sense of belonging can only start with accepting and understanding who you are first.
What are some of your experiences as a person of 2 cultures?