Appreciating the Blend | Teen Ink

Appreciating the Blend

February 14, 2009
By Junia Zhang BRONZE, San Diego, California
Junia Zhang BRONZE, San Diego, California
4 articles 15 photos 0 comments

Ever since I grew old enough to recognize the significant cultural differences between China, where my parents grew up, and America, where I was born, I have often wondered what would have happened to me if my dad had not come to study in America. Most likely, I would have never lifted a tennis racket or understood true freedom. I probably would not have learned how to speak Spanish or eaten a California burrito from Roberto's. And of course, my friends would not range in diversity as they do now: Caucasian, Korean, Indian, African-American, Mexican and Filipino. Then again, there is the scary idea that I would not even have known what it was like to grow up in China either, as a result of the one-child policy.
The other day my dad told me about a girl my age in China who had prepared, like her peers, virtually her whole life for the exam all students take that would determine their future college. In China, grades from years of school before their last high school year do not count; this one test is the sole determining factor for which college, if any, the student will attend. In addition, my dad said, this test only comes around once a year, no exceptions.
So this girl had prepared all throughout her school career. But when the huge, nerve-wracking day finally came, for some unaccounted reason, she was late. The proctors refused to let her in. This devastated girl fell down to her knees in front of the school officials and pleaded to be let in but was turned away.
I asked my dad what would happen to this girl, whose prospective future has now been jeopardized. He said that she would have to wait another full year and take it with the next round of students, but her chances of getting into any college then would be slim due to her age.
In America, we might have the dreaded SATs and AP classes, not to mention the boatload of college essays and applications, but it is the collaboration of all these aspects combined that determines any of our potential colleges. We get to apply to however many colleges we want, whereas in China they are limited. Basically, a bad day, sudden illnesses or family emergencies'well, that just sucks for you.
I am thankful to have been born and raised in America, where my future does not depend on a single annual test, where my parents have fulfilled their American Dream, where a strong belief in human rights has dominated countless movements and where cultures are free to collide and merge into one melting pot.
People in China nearly all dream of coming to America, the land of hope. They say English is the language of prosperity; all of us who have studied the American Dream in our English classes know what people hope for when they come to America.
In my own English class, we had a discussion about whether or not the American Dream still exists in the developed world today. All I know is that it came true for my parents, who came from the lingering ends of the Cultural Revolution and built the comfortable, stable lifestyle I grew up in.
My parents sometimes tell me what growing up under the dictatorship of Mao Zedong was like; how his oppression started from the commercialized capital at the heart of the nation in Beijing, where my mother lived, and branched all the way to Shenyang, my father's home in the outskirts of China. My dad did not have much schooling when he was young because of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution policies. Each day he would play around his neighborhood or help his mother, father and older brother and sister around their one-story home.
When my mother and father were my age, they were sent with the rest of their generation to China's countryside to work as farmers in Mao Zedong's 'Re-education camp" during what would have been their college years.
Times have changed; China has industrialized and while it is not uncommon for students like my dad to come to America to study, it is still difficult. Perhaps it is this background, and the knowledge of other hardworking students like this girl whose future is now in question, that push parents like mine to care so much for their own kids to achieve their personal best.
My friends sometimes complain about their parents being 'so Asian,' and I'll admit I do too. But I also have realized, somewhat reluctantly, that it is because all of these first-generation immigrants have undergone hardships to come to America in the first place that they want us to take advantage of the privileges we have here that they worked so hard to provide.
While my parents' stories make me appreciate my life in America all the more, at the same time I will always remember my trips back to China, where generations of my family came together and celebrated our homecoming. These memories stand in sharp contrast to the typical days spent with just my dad, mom and sister here in the United States. So though I am glad and privileged to have grown up in the country of freedom and potential, China offers a connection to my family and ancestral culture that I could never reach in America.
I am pretty sure I can live without that nerve-wracking exam dominating the first 17 years of my life; but in the end, I need my Chinese and my English, my spring rolls and my In-N-Out, my heritage and my opinions.
The American Dream may or may not exist anymore. People in China today have much more improved lives than those like my parents did during the Cultural Revolution. Teenagers will probably continue to say 'Wow, you're so Asian' when a kid is unhappy with a B, or takes AP Chemistry or studies on a Friday night. While stereotypes like these and countless others still exist everywhere, ultimately, America is and always has been a country where all cultures freely fuse together and then form individuals out of the blend. There may be hundreds of kids from this school alone with backgrounds similar to mine, but somehow theirs will still be different.
In this way, America does not need to be defined in terms of the American Dream, but as a nation of individuality and personal expression, which, after hearing stories like this potential college student, I am grateful to have.

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