Immigrant Blessings, part 1

(The following is the beginning, God willing, of a series of entries fueled by a hope to keep the experience of the previous generations in my family alive.  It was brought to mind recently as four generations came together recently to celebrate my grandfather’s 90-something birthday.)

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Growing up, I was pretty embarrassed about my immigrant background.  I remember wanting to change my name in preschool. “Mom, why can’t my name be Michael?” I thought.  “I would just feel so much better about myself.”  While having some Caucasian friends over as a second or third grader in Madison, WI, I still remember feeling downright embarrassed by the completely un-aesthetic collection of functional furniture in our cramped apartment (my dad was going through medical school), along with my parents’ lack of western social grace and understanding.   This embarrassment of culture, especially as embodied by my parents, continued for some years.

But things changed- not with my culture or my parents, but with me.  My parents’ house still has a random assortment of furniture, and they still function day-to-day in many ways as if they were poor immigrant grad students (even though Dad is an MD/PhD with numerous material and academic achievements).  The difference now is that I see the values they embody as truly valuable and desirable.  Values of simplicity and modesty,  for example, along with a deep desire to keep culture alive through language have grown on me…

They aren’t perfect of course, and neither is the cultural heritage I come from.  But I’m thankful that every  culture and story has its strengths that we can learn from, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to learn from the Chinese immigrant culture in the last half of the 20th century.

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7 Comments»

  Johnny wrote @

Hi Yucan(definitely suits you better than “Michael”! ;-))

…really interesting post…and if the pic is your grandfather he’s looking good. That shirt rocks!

Peace & Blessings

J

  belisariusca wrote @

Hi, Yucan. Many congratulations to your grandfather. I praise the Lord for the legacy left to you of hard work, wisdom, modesty, and the love of learning.

It has been noised about that loving one’s ancestry and ethnic heritage–yours as Chinese in particular, is somehow antithetical to celebrating one’s love for country–this one, obviously. To me, nothing could be further from the truth. Not long ago I read the account of one of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. What stirred me most was how he held that it must be the mutual incorporation of the principles of the Declaration of Independence–“all men are created equal,” etc., that would ensure that the nation would unify all of the various peoples living in America. He rightly posited that it was the only alternative to the racist idea–held by Douglas, that the nation and its institutions must always hold to the idea of America being a “white, Protestant country.”

Applying to your touching account of your grandfather’s example, I find that rather than feeling like you have to choose between American “Michael” and Chinese “Yucan”, why not choose American “Yucan”, of Chinese descent? In that way, you are embracing both as part of who God intended you to be? I repeat something I once said to you, that you did not seem to understand at the time: You are an American, of Chinese descent, not a hyphenated something or other, as if you were of a different species than the rest of the citizenry. “We hold these truths to be self-evident” is yours, equally. The hue of your skin, the almond shape of your eyes, and the spelling and sound of your name, or that of your family, does not make your identity as an American any less valid, and should be no less precious, indeed is more so, than is the case with any “Michael” who would seek to hide who he really is behind a name that would please someone else. We should let God, and God alone, define who we are. He chose before the beginning of the world for you to be born in this land, not China, and for a reason that is yet unfolding for all of us, which He will reveal in His own good time.

Ciao.

  T.J. wrote @

Fascinating entry, my friend. I don’t have the immigrant experience to relate to, but I think as a person of color, the idea of inclusive/noninclusive politics are familiar. I’m glad you’re Yucan. Michael, while perfectly fine, just isn’t the you we’ve come to know and love.

Miss ye, my friend.

  Kelly G. wrote @

Hi Yucan, I just spent a long time writing my thoughts on my blog about my family’s experience as Chinese in America and so it was so fascinating to read about your family and your thoughts. Thanks for sharing. =)

Also, I read the quote about marriage–I’ll have to save it somewhere and go back to it every now and then.

Hope you all are well!

-kelly

  yucan wrote @

Kelly-
Thanks for the comment. i read your entry and left a comment… wow, thanks for writing about it, thanks for sharing. we truly have so much to learn from our ancestors… they are truly amazing, really.

  cj wrote @

I am Filipino by blood but a proud American by heart!

When my family migrated here 8 years ago, we adopted everything American. We didn’t necessarily left our traditions on the doorstep but we embraced this new culture gratefully. Being a first gen immigrant I had to learn English ( thankfully our country use English on a regular basis) and change some of my ways to fit in this new society I’m living in. It has been a very easy transition for me. I think its because America has always been about celebrating our differences. I never once felt that I have to deny my heritage. Haha I guess you can say I Love America and everything it stands for.

  David Park wrote @

great post. really enjoyed it. can’t wait for the next in the series.


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