July, 1994 my mom boarded a plane in Taipei, Taiwan headed for Los Angeles, California with my elder sister four months along in her womb. Within the same year, my elder sister was born and in 1996 I was born into the Lin family. We were raised in Hacienda Heights, California in a small house where we first learned a mix of Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese which was what my parents spoke, both being first generation immigrants. Somewhere along the way, I started speaking more English than Chinese at home but it still came out as a flurry of mostly English with Chinese words weaved in every now and then so that my mom could understand what I was talking about.
When I was six, we moved back to my mother’s hometown in Taiwan for half a year and then to Guangzhou, China for five years. My sister and I lived in China, but we went to an American International School so we were never exposed to Chinese culture. My peers and I were taught by white, primarily American and Canadian teachers, and were taught in English with a weekly class on Chinese for our secondary language.
In fourth grade my family moved back to the United States where my sister and I were the only Asian kids in the entire school. There were no Asian families in our neighborhood, and looking at our school probably in the district surrounding our school. When I got to middle school we had moved to a different state and in that particular middle school, there were about 10 more Asian kids in my grade than my elementary school of the previous state. Not a huge improvement, but for me it was one that I was definitely delighted with. However, when my friends would ask me if I was Chinese, I would have to explain to them that I’m Taiwanese, where Taiwan is, that Taiwan isn’t a part of China, what language is spoken in Taiwan, what language I speak (a question I now answer with, “English”), and a flurry of other questions. At that time, I honestly thought I was the local master on anything Taiwan and a full-fledged Taiwanese but it wasn’t long until I realized otherwise.
In the summer of my eighth grade, my family took a trip back to Taiwan to visit family for the first time in seven years. I was greeted by a culture that I thought I knew and belonged to but quickly realized that I didn’t entirely belong. Customs, food, mannerisms, and traditions were at times alien to me and I struggled often with the Chinglish (mix of Chinese and English) that I grew up with that was only used among our family members. My aunts, uncles, and especially my cousins weren’t deterred by the slight language barrier though and we did our best to fill in the gaps in culture and teach each other about the one we were more familiar with. They knew just about as much about American culture as I knew about Taiwanese culture and we would exchange information about our experiences with common things that turned out to be somewhat similar but also as different as two separate worlds.
Because of the trip to Taiwan, I have come to believe in the importance of diversity, particularly being exposed to many different cultures. What kind of food does that country have? What kind of traditions do they have? What’s in that country? Who are the people in that country? I am able to take part in two vastly different cultures: American, and Taiwanese. I am able to be part of both worlds and my life is richer because of this. The things that I have learned because of my experiences with Taiwanese culture as well as those with American culture have added so much depth to my view of the world and my understanding of it. Often, we fear what we don’t know and as a result we make long-lasting judgments based on what we hear on the news or read somewhere on the internet about a group or a culture without even really getting to know these cultures. The misunderstandings, the fear, the distaste toward, and even the hatred that stem from the lack of exposure to a diversity of cultures and people is now an epidemic that has resulted in wars and has killed thousands of innocents. I’m not saying that exposure to diversity will cure all wars but it definitely helps to quell misconceptions about certain cultures and fear of them which is the first step towards diminishing hate and promoting equality and acceptance. So when my children grow up, I plan to travel the world with them once and allow them to experience first hand the country for it will make their lives that much richer.