Finding my way home

A screenshot of my successful application submission for my second Bachelors degree

It has been a long time since I’ve been an undergraduate.  Over 18 years, to be exact.  I was a student (on and off) for 10 years of those 18, but the application process has really changed since the mid-90s when I last applied to be an undergraduate.

Today, after 2-hours fighting with the Cal State Apply system (and some help from a very nice staff member who was able to finally able to fix, or circumvent, a bug that was preventing me from updating my profile information, and thus submitting my application), I officially began what I hope will be a journey towards reclamation of my cultural heritage, through learning about Chinese language, history, culture and current Asian American experiences.

Over the last few years, but especially in the last several months, I’ve realized that the loss of my heritage languages (I consider both Mandarin and Taiwanese to be my heritage languages) has cost me so much. As I was sitting with my aunt in her final days, although she could still speak English with me, I struggled with not being able to communicate with her Mandarin speaking caretaker and saw the gratitude in her eyes when her doctors spoke Taiwanese and Mandarin with her.  I’ve been hesitant to go to Taiwan or China (despite my son learning Mandarin for the last 7 years) because of my shame at not being able to speak. I mean, if we’re keeping it 100% real, I’ve felt shame in local Chinese restaurants for not being able to speak.

But it’s not just about language.  When my mother passed away, many parts of me felt like they died as well. My mother was, in so many ways, my lifeline to my culture. Because she wanted what was best for me, she chose to promote my greater mainstream cultural assimilation.  It paid off in some ways.  I got into many great colleges, graduated from one of the best public universities in the nation (Go Bears!), pursued post-graduate work and am well respected professionally. I also speak perfect, accent-free (American) English and am neither housing nor food insecure. I own my home and have an amazing life partner and great children.  So, by all those measure, I guess I am successful.

But I have never been able to shake the feeling of not being good enough. I was a teenager when my mother passed away, at the height of teenage rebellion, having long rejected her attempts to teach me Mandarin at home. As a single mom who didn’t enjoy freeway driving and who didn’t have a lot of disposable income, the 35 miles and cost of Chinese school made it not realistic for us.  Besides, we only had weekends to spend together as a family, and Sundays, we went to church. Family and faith were important to my mom.  Culture was too, but I suppose she hoped I would figure it out in college.

I might have, if she hadn’t passed away so suddenly when I was 16.  Or at least, maybe I wouldn’t have run so far away from my ethnic and racial identity.  I don’t know how my life would have been different if my mom hadn’t died, but I know that it would have been different somehow.

I want my own children to know who they are, as Taiwanese Peruvian Americans.  I want them to have a strong sense of their multiple racial/ ethnic/ national identities, the strengths and struggles people with these (and other) identities have faced. I want them to see how they fit into the tapestry of American culture and the ways in which they will likely face and hopefully surmount, in coalition with others, the structural barriers set up for them because of who they are.

But I can’t do that if I don’t have that knowledge for myself.

So, at (almost) 40, as an (almost) tenured associate professor, I’m beginning on this journey, in the place I’m most comfortable…the classroom.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve already had to fight with my internal monologues about how ridiculous I am for going back for a second bachelors degree at this point in my life (and career); convince my close friends that I’m not crazy for taking this on; deal with an automated application system that wouldn’t let me change my profile information so I could SUBMIT my application; stress about whether I actually have even met the gen ed requirement in oral communications (on paper) even though I’ve been an oral communications professional for over 15 years; waste money on sending more transcripts than I needed to because I didn’t realize how the transcripts were structured.  It’s been a journey.

But already, I’m learning compassion, for myself, but also for my students who have likely also gone through these struggles and many more. I am recognizing what privileges I have (academic, institutional, financial, citizenship) and in the midst of these humbling experiences (which I’m sure I’m just beginning), I am developing strength to advocate and kindness towards who I am becoming.

And I am excited that, although the path may have been long and winding, I am finding a way back home, to a (more) cohesive Asian American and Taiwanese American identity.

One thought on “Finding my way home

  1. I wish I could hug you in person but here’s a virtual huggggggggggggg. I’m proud of you. This is a big and important step and it’s got YOU written all over it. I support you 100%.

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