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Chopsticks, Harvard, and Chicken Claws
By Joseph L.
age: 16
Texas

I知 174 centimeters tall, weigh 51 kilograms, and I wear stylish glasses with one hell of a cool frame. I can study a total of six hours straight. Parents love me. I知 Chinese.

I知 shorter than six feet, the average, weigh between 110 and 115 pounds by the end of the day depending on how much I eat at lunch, and I have hair that looks like a patch of carpet that has been ravaged by a rabid cat. I can bench the bar, a whopping forty pounds, and sometimes when I turn sideways people can稚 find me. I知 Chinese-American.

I知 a person, yet I知 two different people. No, not a bad case of schizophrenia, just a product of today痴 ethnically diverse society. As a Chinese who has been raised on potato chips, 擢riends, weekly changing boy bands, and the assurance that my future career holds more for me than being a doctor or an engineer, I surely am an ABC, standing not only for American-Born Chinese, but also American: Born Confused.

The confusion starts with my having to lead an American-by-day, Chinese-by-night kind of life. At school I知 with my friends邑hite, Black, Hispanic, Indian耀ome of them even Chinese, ABC痴 to be more exact. I act naturally with them, and we do things . . . 鄭merican, whatever that means. I even get to use the Promethian fire of Western civilization, the fork. When I get home, however, I walk through the door to the smell of beef stew and tea eggs, and at around seven o団lock, I am faced with the challenge of having to make two ominous, wooden sticks open and close; otherwise, starvation awaits at my failure to perform this task. Being brought up with Chinese parents in a typical American suburb is like . . . getting hit in the groin with a football annoying . . . and also very painful. The two just don稚 mix.

First and foremost, there痴 the matter of academics. Most parents are fine when their kids get anything above a 釘. Heck, sometimes they値l even settle for a 鼎+ if they池e in a good enough mood. Well, let me tell you something. Chinese parents are never in a good mood when it comes to bringing home report cards. You know how the grading scale is from zero to a hundred? Well, the Chinese version of it is from ninety-six to a hundred, and the ninety-six is parental justification for child abuse. For me, it got to the point where I no longer studied to enhance my intellectual capacity so as to better myself in the future; no, I studied so I wouldn稚 get beat. No, I知 just exaggerating, but it really is hard for Chinese parents who grew up in an academic environment where grades were the one-way ticket to a life of prosperity and good fortune!預n environment where grades were everything, and nothing else really mattered. And then we get to Western education. Here, it痴 not all about studying till you see who among your friends has the most gruesome crook in his neck from burying his head in books. Rather, it痴 based on a more versatile set of criteria: extracurricular activities, volunteer hours, the whole works. But try telling that to Chinese parents! They値l just think you池e lying and beat you in addition to getting a ninety-six in AP Calculus BC. You can稚 really blame them though. All they really want is for their children to get admitted into respectable colleges, which brings me to another point: colleges.

America: home of the world痴 most diverse educational system of colleges and universities容ast coast, west coast, liberal arts, premed, pre-law, community college遥ou name it. But try showing that list to Chinese parents. Nothing will jolt them from their die-hard conviction that there are only three colleges in the United States: Harvard, M.I.T., and if you really have to, Stanford. If not those three, then trust me, they will not believe you got accepted into a real college, and the only thing they see down the road of life for you is peddling for change at some deserted subway station.

Fear not. There痴 more news from the battlefront between East and West. Chinese school: the dreaded institution that has become a lethal poison ingrained deep within the souls of ABC痴 everywhere. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday . . . all the way up to Friday, and then bam!擁t痴 the weekend: Chinese school. You know, it wouldn稚 be so bad if it didn稚 teach Chinese. Now, you may be questioning my logic here. Isn稚 the point of Chinese school to teach Chinese? Not if it comes with old-school Chinese beatings, two-faced teachers who are nominally worthy of the word hag, and homework up the擁nsert profanity here. Granted that within the walls of Chinese school, the activities are planned by people who are Tories of the Chinese culture, and the sweet music of East Asian tradition flows mellifluously through the hallways, the faculty should know that beatings aren稚 a pillar of Chinese heritage (and if it is, you値l hear more from me at another time). It痴 truly an injustice. They make you write columns and columns of the same character so that its ornate strokes become drilled into your head forever熔r at least until after the exams, and if you accidentally skipped one character box during the toils of hand-breaking labor, brace yourself for the thrashings of the teacher痴 wooden ruler. I even once considered photocopying one column of my written work and copying and pasting to the other columns, but the red lashes from last week痴 sloth reminded me to do better. Don稚 get me wrong; I知 not against the intention of Chinese schools. I respect that the institution wishes to bequeath Chinese traditions to our culturally handicapped generation of ABC痴, but this could be better accomplished within the confines of each family, which better understands the needs of its children and their hectic Chinese-American dichotomy of a timetable.

The cultural clash between East and West exists not only in America, but also in a foreign arena熔r should I say, in the homeland arena. The reason that many ABC痴 find their places of ethnic origin to be foreign is that they simply are not welcome by native adults and peers alike. We step off the plane with our Tommy Hilfigers and Polo Ralph Laurens and immediately find ourselves under heavy fire of disapproving glares from the more modest natives. It痴 our means of expression that bothers them, but also the way that we walk, talk, and謡ell用retty much everything else that we do. I mean, it痴 not that all ABC痴 are being snobbish when they visit their homelands, but rather, it痴 the way that American society has inadvertently molded their every single action. The finest nuances that have become integrated into our normal behavior have been influenced by what we, as permanent residents of the United States, have seen on TV and what we致e picked up from the people around us in American society. Everything is different from what native Chinese have experienced in an environment where modesty permeates all mannerisms, unlike American society, which is characterized by openness and maybe even by dignified arrogance (or whatever you would call positive overconfidence). It痴 not just the little things either. OK, if you致e ever bore witness to the Amy Tan痴 Joy Luck Club scene where the Caucasian male gets dogged by his Chinese fianc馥 for his cultural ignorance of Chinese dining etiquette, you値l know what I mean. No, Mrs. Tan wasn稚 exaggerating; that痴 how we ABC痴 live from Day One in hostile enemy territory, our homeland. It goes something like this:

添ou must be starving from your twenty-hour flight from America! Here, have some scrumptious chicken claws.

展hy, thank you, Auntie . . . but chicken claws don稚 exactly ring my bell.

哲o, you must! Very good!

哲o, it痴 really OK.

Next thing you know, after dinner you致e become the extended family痴 worst case of a stuck-up ABC who snubs everything Chinese.

Alternative:

展hy, thank you, Auntie! I will try some scrumptious chicken claws.

徹h, aren稚 you sweet! But I must warn you. Chicken claws not sweet enough! Very bad.

You think, Then why痴 she offering it to me? You take it anyway to maintain your current goody-goody reputation. Heck, you want to boost that reputation, so you decide to make the scrumptious chicken claws even more scrumptious by adding something sugary to them to accommodate for their non-sweetness. You reach over for that convenient bottle of honey, and WHACK!

The next thing you know, you致e got a permanent, red palm-mark imprinted on the left side of your face. How were you supposed to know everyone Chinese criticizes most harshly his most prized works?

Anyway, considering all these liabilities that come with being the classic ABC, what are we to do? Maybe we should just find ourselves a little corner of the world to spend the rest of our lives in isolation, just to save everyone the trouble of having to deal with us cultural misfits. Or maybe we should try adapting because isn稚 that the point of life? With everything becoming so . . . multi-everything, especially when it comes down to ethnicity and culture, shouldn稚 we try to 堵o with the flow? Or maybe some other time when we池e more ready to face this world of chicken-claw-stuffing relatives and chopsticks-toting parents with Harvard expectations in their veins.

 

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