Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Lost Generation of Chinese-Americans

Mr. Frank H. Wu, Chancellor and Dean of UC Hastings College of Law, recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post on China and its rule of law. This perked my interest because Mr. Wu observed that to the Mainland Chinese, there is no such thing as someone who is “both Chinese and American.”   
“In [China’s] new found nationalism, that is an absurd assertion. There is no distinction between culture and politics. To be Chinese is to be Chinese through and through.”
This puts me in an odd place. I consider myself to be both Chinese and American. I come from the Mainland. I grew up in the Gobi and spent my childhood learning communist songs and their propaganda in an elite Beijing school. Where Mr. Wu “did not know even a single line” of those annoying Communist Party Songs, I have many of them stuck in my head even if I wish to absolve their reminisce. I have come to face the unfortunate fact that no matter how hard I try to be an American, a large part of my life was spent memorizing Chinese poems and singing songs about red stars and the humble grass that overcame evil western invaders. So the news that I cannot be both Chinese and American shocked me.

Well, I lied. It did not shock me. I had tried once to obtain a dual citizenship, but was flat-out rejected. I had held on to my Chinese passport for as long as I could. I even served in the U.S. Army as a Chinese citizen. There was a time when I lost my military ID and it was an interesting sequence of events trying to get onto Ft. Lewis with my big red passport. Picture if you will, bomb-sniffing dogs and puzzled looks on the faces of guards watching me in uniform trying to explain that I had been allowed to join the military as a medic because I had been a permanent resident in the U.S. for years.

I deployed to the Iraq War with U.S. Infantry as a Chinese, returned as a Chinese (with all of my limbs and annoying memories of Communist Party Songs intact); and while I reserved my identity as long as I could, when I finally realized my remoteness with the country that no longer wish to have me, I became an American. I took the oath, yet again, to defend the U.S. Constitution; and sadly I tossed my red passport along with many things from China now forgotten in to some lock-box. I often ask myself, what is it that I am to defend for China? To which I have a vague answer that is absent of China’s politics. I love China’s culture, one I grew so accustomed to that to this day I chase an empty dream of reclaiming my Chineseness.

So I still consider myself Chinese. There are many instances when my wife and her friends discuss their nostalgic commonalities of their American youth—songs they learned in grade school or TV shows they had watched in the early 80s; I would look on with envy and melancholy and weep in silence with a smile on my face pretending to know exactly what it’s like to have been there as an American.

There is no one in my life now, less my parents on occasion, to muse my Chineseness. Mr. Wu perhaps could not understand why I would want to even entertain such a thing; what Mr. Wu failed to understand is that besides the many American-born Chinese, who would speak with a Texas drawl or a Southern twang, I, with my somewhat perfected American accent, would get lost in the idea that I’m not perfectly normal. I do not have a consistent perspective and I am often the one others would label as the “unusual” one. Although I would like to have had a normal life, to have grown up in some town in Kentucky and faced my share of civil prejudice; I did not enjoy such luxuries. My adolescence was a confused paradox and whatever prejudices I faced in high school was lost in translation. I tried hard to remedy that problem, but when my English was good enough and I sounded like the people around me, I still do not have the memories of America; for those years I wondered China’s lands and rattled on its trains.         
And while Mr. Wu has no clue why Chinese would want to fly through air in their movies, I have this deep un-remedied yearning to find those old books I have and to read those old novels again about kung-fu masters and their amazing attainment of “chi” that allowed them to fly like superman and fight evil with their fists of many shapes.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wu pointed out that today’s Chinese are finding out as much as they can about Americans and our way of life including this thing we call the “rule of law.” He urged us “not be surprised” when the new generations of Chinese “contribute as equals” to the ever global legal norms. Yet I find it troubling that Mr. Wu does not suggest there are things deeply about being Chinese that will be capable of contributing to a sense of norm in the “rule of law” tradition.

But this is not a problem for Americans. This is a problem for the Chinese themselves; or to those who would believe there is such a thing as being both Chinese and American. We will have to articulate what it means for there to be a rule of law nation with so much history and so much of it forgotten.

,   法.
,   國.

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