I'm not just American. I'm Chinese-American.
It should not make a difference, right? After all, whichever phrase is used, I'm still considered American.
But no. There is a difference. And through my 16 years, the Chinese part of Chinese-American has undeniably been the dominant force in my life.
For example, I do not see all my extended family during Thanksgiving or Christmas. We get together during Chinese New Year, which falls after the traditional holidays. I find it easier to slurp noodles with chopsticks rather than a fork. And Chinese war movies triumph over Marvel superhero movies any day.
Sometimes these traits elicit a "you're so Asian" from my friends. It used to really bother me when people said that. It felt as if someone was sticking an ugly, dense label on my forehead. I remember being ashamed to bring my little thermos full of dumplings to eat at lunchtime during school. Instead, I pleaded with my mom to pack me something "normal," like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a ham and cheese sandwich. Not being able to make it to a classmate's birthday party was always because "I'm busy," when it really was because I attended Saturday Chinese school.
I had a keen desire to be "normal." I don't know how I obtained the idea that "Asian" was synonymous with "weird," but I guess crazy thoughts can form in the mind of children.
But I'm no longer the same Asian girl I was in second grade. I've learned to appreciate my background and all the kinks that come along with it. I can't say that one day I woke up and suddenly looked at the world with a different view.
I think learning to appreciate my ethnicity was a process -- a process I wasn't even aware of. Perhaps it was my grandmother's stories about her past or the tedious hours spent listening to my Chinese teacher speak about our heritage, or maybe it was spending time around other Asians that led to change. Maybe it was realizing that the Chinese language is an art of its own.
As a result, the level of my Asian-ness has turned up a notch. To prove my point, I can tell you I bring chopsticks to school (sometimes). With a lunch break of just 40 minutes, which I usually need to cram for a test, chopsticks are my best friend. They allow me to quickly pick up food that would take more time to stab with a fork. Of course, if I tell people this, they just give me The Look -- you know the one, that funky combination of incredulity, amusement, and I-do-not-believe-you-but-I'm-just-going-to-stay-silent look.
I also unabashedly spend a chunk of my free time watching Asian dramas. It is sometimes weird to be the only person at school who doesn't know what just happened on the latest episodes of "How I Met Your Mother," "The Big Bang Theory" or "The Vampire Diaries." When I tell friends I'm not a "How I Met Your Mother" fan, their eyes grow wide in disbelief as if I told them that I eat squirrels for breakfast (I don't). I've tried to get my friends to watch Asian dramas and have been able to convert a few, but for the most part, the common response is a flat "no."
Sometimes, I still have to deal with the Asian stereotypes of being nerdy and cheap. Although they are definitely not considered uplifting, I embrace them. Yes, I study hard, and yes, I try to save money, but I would think everyone should try their best and not squander away what they have.
I love being Chinese-American. I've embraced my ethnicity and, as sappy as it sounds, it has shaped me into the person I am today. I'm proud.
The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Kelsey Wong attends Irvington High School in Fremont. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.