STEPPING TOWARDS A BETTER TOMORROW
BY JESSICA KWANDOU - 15 YEARS OLD - UNITED STATES
I come home from school, take off my socks and shoes at the doorsteps, and wear my “in-house” slippers. I wash my hands, take a bath, put on my “home clothes,” and place my “outside clothes” straight into the laundry basket. This is not a description of pandemic life, but rather my daily after-school routine.
I am a child of Chinese immigrants. My grandparents were from China, and they sought refuge in Indonesia after the political instability. My parents were born in Indonesia, and they emigrated to the United States after the May 1998 Indonesian mobs against Chinese descendants. I was born in the United States.
I am fortunate, in some ways, that I grew up in an Asian community. Yet, I cannot help but feel that my Asian American identity is different. While I am indeed Asian, I am not the “correct” kind of Asian which people can quickly identify.
“Are you Chinese, Korean, or Japanese?” people would ask. I replied, “I am none of the above.” Then, “Where are you really from?” They insisted on knowing.
I look Chinese but do not speak Chinese; instead, I speak “In-lish” (Indonesian-English). My last name sounds like the Spanish word “cuando,” which means “when.” At home, we practice feng shui, or Chinese geomancy, yet my American house represents my Indonesian heritage filled with intricate teakwood carvings. We eat fish with our bare hands, noodles with chopsticks, and steak with forks and knives at our family dinner.
“What is home, then?” I contemplated.
As a first-generation American, finding my home has been a journey of conformity,
diversity, learning and unlearning. I strive to find a balance between the expectations of my cultural community while also confronting the realities of American society and its expectations of me. Stunned by my white friend’s nonchalance of wearing sneakers on couches, I find myself adjusting to their home practices, which differ from my own. I think most Asian Americans struggle with such differences because sometimes, it feels like we still have to prove that we belong. We try so hard to bend into one shape that doesn’t fit all.
In contrast, my family embraces the many shapes from our own unique cultural mix.
Since we are not heavily rooted in “tradition,” we reinvent customs specific to us. For example, during Chinese New Year, we not only have Chinese food, but Indonesian and American food as well. It is a melting pot of everything.
In the future, I hope to live in a world where I can exist without restriction. As my home is a place where I possess the power to be anyone I want to be, I strive to continue to bring that aspect with me as a member of society. My grandparents, parents, and I never feel out of place because we impart our rich, hard-working, family values wherever we go, just as the old English saying, “home is where the heart is.”