Florence Kwo: Embracing Cultural Roots
Steamed chicken feet. Bottled tiger organs. Pearl milk
tea. As a young girl growing up in a large Chinese community,
I have always felt a sense of belonging. It was never
uncommon to smell the pungent stench of raw fish in the
markets, to hear the jabbering of ladies speaking in Cantonese
or to see gray-haired men playing Mah-jong.
Compared with other Asian adults, my first experiences
in America were a breeze. Faced with the difficult challenge
of fitting in and changing their language, dress and attitudes,
many Asians abandoned their dreams in the "land of
opportunity" and left, returning home.
My parents were lucky enough to survive the initial trials
and raised a family. Despite losing a few traditions during
the transition, my parents have always retained the most
integral values of the Chinese culture. And although I
struggled for years to identify myself as "American,"
I have learned to accept and even embrace my Asian heritage.
Like other first generation Chinese-American children,
my parents dragged me out of bed to attend Saturday Chinese
school. Not only did I sacrifice my early morning Superman
episode, but I also had to complete grueling Chinese homework!
My father used to say, "You know, you might not understand
now, but when you grow up, you will thank me for teaching
you Chinese." And he was right. Learning Chinese
was a priceless gift from my father and has bridged the
gap between the two cultures in my life, giving me a deeper
appreciation for my Chinese heritage.
When I was a little girl, my father used to tell stories
about the value of filial piety. Unheard of to most Americans,
filial piety involves a child's responsibility to respect
elders, especially parents. This respect is symbolized
in the Chinese story about a young boy who warms the bed
for his mother by first sleeping in it.
Unlike obedience and conformity, which is taught in Chinese
culture, American culture emphasizes the importance of
individualism and freedom of speech, often allowing children
to have equal rights in the family hierarchy. Chinese
tradition, however, emphasizes parental dominance over
Growing up, I struggled with the concept of filial piety,
torn between the different American and Chinese values.
But I have chosen to honor this traditional value. As
my parents' daughter, I owe them more than I can comprehend.
And although China may be thousands of miles away, my
way of repaying them is to live by the ideal of filial
piety, honoring my parents in every way I can.
What will happen to the heritage of our ancestors if
we continue to ignore the different cultures that comprise
America? Although learning Chinese has not always been
easy for me, I am sure that the difficulty of preserving
the Chinese heritage will only increase in the generations
to come. I am worried that my grandchildren will not be
able to speak a word of Chinese and have no understanding
of their heritage. But I am determined to teach my children
all about Chinese culture, giving them an opportunity
to appreciate it and possibly teach others. And if it
comes down to it, I too will drag my kids out of bed to
attend Saturday Chinese school.
In the search for my own identity, I have discovered
the importance of culture. While living in America, people
lose sight of their own culture's traditions, language
and values. But "American" is not the style,
attitude or dress that characterizes the people of this
nation. Rather, it is the product of countless cultures
and traditions integrated into our everyday lives. We
should never lose sight of that.
Florence Kwo is a senior at Lowell High School.