Friday, September 08, 2006

An Introduction to Family

I was going to write something absolutely profound (if you've been following along in the comments, you'll mark me as the one that has, indeed, belched something in response to what Rhonda has written), but it's quite funny what happens to one's brain when one sits in front of the computer to write. It sounds like many of you, Rhonda's readers, are eagerly awaiting your little bundles of joy from mainland China. :) As one of Rhonda's friends, I have followed along each step of this saga with huge interest and find myself being sucked into the whole experience.

A bit about me, as something of a caveat. Firstly, I am a second generation Chinese immigrant to the United States. I was born and raised in the United States (California, to be exact), in an area that has a high density of Asian immigrants (33% including South Asian/Indian in my high school, 40% at my university), went to Chinese school for nine years, and currently attend a bilingual Chinese-American church (English speaking congregation). I even taught at a Chinese American private school for two and a half years before I fled back to high tech.

My family is originally from the Zhejiang province in China, since my grandfather was raised in the countryside near Hanzhou/Suzhou a couple of hours from Shanghai, but my grandmother was raised in the relatively modern Guilin. However, during the Cultural Revolution, both sides of the family fled, like many others, to Taiwan - my mother's side of the family to Taizhong and my father's to Taipei. The highly discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act was overthrown by the McCarran-Walter Act and the Immigration and National Services Act, and my father was able to enter the United States as an accountant.

The reason I mention so much of my family history is that not all Chinese Americans are the same. There are those who came in the mid 1800s from very poor families and huddled together in Chinatowns. There are those who came (and still come) on professional visas who are highly educated and generally come from well-to-do families. There are those who are from the metropolitan areas of Hong Kong and Shanghai, and those who are still grubbing a living in the countryside or attempting to find a better life in the cities.

Nor are a lot of the traditions the same. What might be celebrated in one region might not be in another; what superstitions the country folk have don't have a lot of weight with the more metropolitan, and what I might consider normal, as a Chinese-Taiwanese-American, might not be in mainland China today.

For you see, China has changed a lot since my family was there in the 1940s. In the sixty years or so since a fraction of the population escaped Communist rule, the political and the social climates have changed significantly. Even more so, the forty years since my parents left Taiwan has seen great cultural shifts in that country as well.

So what Rhonda has asked me to present here - and what I offer to you - are the cultural insights of someone sixty years removed from China, forty years removed from Taiwan, and embroiled in a Chinese American landscape that will likely be foreign to your own. Many Mandarin teachers (including those from mainland China) tell me my spoken Mandarin is impeccable - impeccably Taiwanese, that is, with lazy pronunciations everywhere. (Did you know, for instance, that there are over 40 different mutually unintelligible dialects labeled as "Chinese"?)

Okay, this post is getting too long, but I hope that the few insights I give you will give you a feeling for what life is like in one Chinese subculture and reflections on what it was like growing up bicultural. Hopefully these comments (and confessions) will help your own transition in helping your future children keep a part of their cultural heritage while still growing up in a world that might seem terribly foreign.


Shovelin' Fool said...

Ok, so I've been editing this blog template all night and I jsut finished fixing a major screw up (not perpetuated by myself mind you) and it's now 4:17AM, eastern time. And even while wiping sleep from my eyes, I am thrilled to have been able to read your post. I really do hope to read more posts from you about your culture and heritage. It truly does make an impact on how I think about raising my soon-to-be-child. Thank you for your post! Now I'm off to bed...!

Avery's Mom & Dad said...

I am a little late in reading this post. Funny how you can visit a blog, skim it, and not give credit where credit is due. Now mind you I read a lot of blogs, so can't always be so mindful to reading as throughly as I would like-as this would be a true time management issue for me. But have to say I will make sure and tune in to your blog. I love the the little maple project, and I love having some insight from spitgirl on her Chinese/American culture. Will look forward to future post. But just enjoy the tone of your blog-Nic told me I would. So anyway, just wanted to say Hi, I love your new look, and can't wait to follow along. OUr DTC is 8/18/06 so right behind you. Hoping for that LID next week. Take care and hope you and Nic had fun at dinner last night:)