A Little Snippet of Family History and My Culture

I had to write a few paragraphs in my Intercultural Communication class, today.  The question was assigned by my teacher, a unicultural white woman, who, surprisingly, continues to mistakenly believe that all of her students come from families of one race, one religion, one culture, and who remain in the same town they were born in.  This is not the first time I have had to step away from the herd and be the odd man out. Would the real 3rd Culture Kids please stand up, please stand up, please stand up…

“Question: Identify two elements of your culture’s history,  Think of: the geography of the locale you were enculturated, historical events within your culture, myths, heroes (not marvel/comic), or stories that have impacted how you think and you see the world today.  Analyze the impact of these two elements on your psyche today.”

This is what I wrote (pg references were just to terms in the textbook):

Elements in my personal culture’s history exist due to a blend of cultures: Chinese and American (Midwestern United States). Although raised in different countries, in entirely different circumstances, both of my parents shared the values they placed on strength in the face of adversity and family as the center of all in the face of change; these are the values I have continued with my own children.

Both of my parents’ constructions of worldviews (pg 195) could trace their origins to their individual cultures’ histories (pg 195) and the emphasis they placed on behaving to make our ancestors proud.  Although raised as an American living overseas most of my life, and possessing a culturally differing perspective of historical events than my mother and father had, I share these values due to the independent, protected environment we built around our family as we travelled.

From my mother’s perspective, she was born while the Nationalist Party was in control of the government in China.  When the Communists rose up in revolution, both of her parents (my Nai-Nai and Yeh-Yeh) dedicated that part of their lives to serving as spies for the Nationalist government.  My mother spent the first 10 years of her life on the run with her parents, or hiding with her sisters and brother; sheltered by relatives or friends of the family while my grandparents were undercover.  When the Communists took over, my mother, her parents, one sister, and her brother were able to escape to Taiwan. Her oldest sister chose to stay behind with her husband and was subsequently tortured, which haunted my mother until the day she died.  My mother was only 10 years old at that time, but she vividly remembered her parents’ passion to fight against a government that would choose to imprison the academics, the artists, and anyone who did not follow Chairman Mao. Coming from a family of nobility, they all had to start from scratch in Taiwan; my mother publishing news articles and selling her paintings to pay her way through university.  Through it all, as many Chinese did and do, she was fully supported by her family; they were her world. On the other side of the world, my father was raised in the Midwest; Davenport Iowa.  His family, like many Americans, had ancestors who were part of the early settlement of America; his great great aunt was one of the first women to take advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862.  She staked a homestead in Wyoming, persevered, and against all odds successfully gained ownership of the land.  That land has been passed down to each generation on my grandmother’s side since then; shared equally by siblings. Today, shared by my father, aunt, and uncle, the former homestead is uninhabitable marshland; its monetary value only existing in mineral rights. However, its historical and cultural significance in our family is invaluable.  When I cried as a child, tired of moving to different countries for my father’s job, I was admonished and told, “We are a family of nomads and pioneers; your ancestors survived being uprooted; they grew stronger with each experience. You have brave blood!  And anywhere you move, you are home.  Your family makes it so.” I never truly understood until I grew older.  Only as an adult could I fully appreciate the past and how it helped me to establish my own identity.  It was one thing that I could draw strength from in a world full of uncertainty and change. It was unique and nobody else could lay claim to it; it made me feel special.

Today, I am continuing the legacy; the history and my family’s unique culture that I share with my children.  We also travel the world for my husband’s job.  And each time we move, when one (or more) of my children is sad or rebellious, I tell them, “Be strong.  Your family is made of nomads; strong pioneers who might be frightened of change, but still they fight to survive. You are never alone; we are each other’s best friends until you make more friends in our new home.  Home is not a geographical place; home is where your family is.”

 

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