I decided to write on this topic because of a conversation with my parents.
Dad: Make sure you learn some Chinese signature dishes before you go to the States. They will count on you to be a good cook. Many Chinese never cooked when they are home, but they all become master chefs when they are in a different country.
Mom: You know how to make dumplings. That’ll do.
The other day my dad asked me,
Do you need to convert to Christianity or Catholicism so that you can blend in there better?
Well, I said no and quickly changed the topic, because if we kept talking about this, I would’ve started an argument about it is acceptable for Chinese to like steaks and it is perfectly fine to be agnostic (that’s what I am) in a different country because you do not have to change who you are just to match people’s expectations and please them.
I cannot shrug this off because I often pride myself as an individual that thinks differently and champions inclusion. So I decided to write about this. While I appreciate their concern, I tried to tell them no to assume and stop having the idea about what “people are supposed to be like” because of the label they voluntarily or involuntarily have on them.
It’s probably difficult for my folks to understand that it is okay to be different. After all, they did not grow up in a very diverse and accepting environment. Their generation always has somebody to tell them what to do. There wasn’t much room for “winging it”. Heck, the government even put a limit on the number of newborns per household, famously known as the “One Child Policy”. The script is laid out for you and you only need to follow the steps. If you don’t, you get judged or punished.
The situation hasn’t changed much in this country. For example, women with their PhDs are ridiculed as the “third gender”, because nobody would take them as their wives, as when they graduate, they’ve missed the deadline of getting married and having a first child. There are so many things wrong about notions like this. Are all people “supposed to” get married and have children? Why do you need to get married by 25 and have your firstborn before 30? Why are men intimidated by the fact that woman can be more educated and achieved than them? Why do women need to wait for men to “take them”? And most importantly, why is one’s life choices others’ business? … I can go on, but you get the point.
That’s why after 22 years here, I don’t want to live before people’s judgmental eyes anymore. I followed the scripts per se, but not exactly because I diverted the best I could, which had been exhausting. I joined the student union while most of my classmates were busy studying; I went to Berkeley as an exchange student in my third semester as a college student and not a lot of people have done that before; I am getting a master’s degree but not in China… I had some leeway for me to do things differently, but I got asked “why” a lot, since the “script” I had was always slightly different from everyone else’s.
I am not dismissing the less daring and more popular choices people are making, but I feel sorry because sometimes they cannot choose what’s best for them because of the pressure from others, and that is a shame. That’s why in some occasions I feel obligated to break certain rules and set precedents, so people can see more opportunities and possibilities. People should be able to make choices and not justify those choices to others.
The human race has a long history of rejecting divergence and it always comes around. But admitting there is a problem is the most important step to solving one. My country is still largely in denial, and will probably stay this way for a very long time.
Progress takes time. We’ll see.