Thursday, April 1, 2010

how do you identify yourself?

I was filling out the Census for my family last week, and it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Identifying myself on paper is not such a black-and-white affair as the census makes it out to be. If I define myself strictly in terms of race, I'm Chinese. But things are never that simple, and that initial question brought on a bunch of other ones about how I identify myself...

Me: In Asia, I'm American. In America, i'm Chinese. But really, I've never been to China, and besides my ability to speak Mandarin, my communication skills are limited to writing my own name. Culturally, I'm accustomed to western ways of dress, eating habits, and even ways of thinking, but some of my values are definitely eastern. But just because I look like I fit in doesn't mean I do; Put me with a group of girls from Taiwan, Hong Kong, or China, and I'll feel as awkward as a cow on rollerskates (and stick out like a sore thumb too). Yes, we're the same racially, but culturally we're a world apart.

Race- noun.
1. a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.
2. an arbitrary classification of modern humans, sometimes, esp. formerly, based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups.
3. a human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans.
4. any people united by common history, language, cultural traits, etc.: the Dutch race.

I had this discussion with a close friend too, who is half Hispanic and half Caucasian. What does she identify herself as under the census? "Other," or just the half that you identify with most? When I was filling it out with my parents, I asked my mom what she wanted to put down. She told me she felt she couldn't put down she was Taiwanese, because racially she's not, but then again she was born there. She has mixed feelings towards the U.S. Census commercials on T.V. encouraging people to fill in "Taiwanese"... which is what I usually tell my friends she is because it's just easier that way rather than explaining it all. My grandparents were all from China, so I suppose that makes my entire family Chinese by default... but we are definitely not your quintessential definition of a Chinese family.

After processing this in my mind for all of 3 minutes at the kitchen table, I checked the box for Chinese. In retrospect, I identify myself as American, but a) the census assumes that, right? and b) blood runs thicker than water... at least if you use the definition of race as reference.
c) Realistically, it's not that simple.


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