Hi, my name is Taina, and I am still trying to piece together my growing patchwork of an identity. I was born in Singapore and lived there until moving to Boston for college at age 19 – which was pretty much as far away from home as I could possibly be. My penchant for picking and prodding at the question of who I was and what exactly made me me, however, started ever since I was a kid. This blog will be a study into one girl in America’s experiences as an Asian immigrant in the 21st century, and her relationship with the island city where she is from. I am interested in discussing issues surrounding intersectionality, language, culture and diversity. I don’t profess to know or speak about everyone’s experiences, but I am eager to share my own.
I was prone to introspection even when I was young, because of what I looked like on the outside. It was at times lonely being an only child, but it was definitely more isolating being the only person of mixed race in my entire extended family. Until recently, the Chinese side of my family, despite the fact that I studied Mandarin as a second language for more than ten years, expressed surprise every time I uttered something that wasn’t in English. When I nodded and followed along with their rapid-fire conversations in Hokkien (a widely-spoken dialect in South East Asia, which originated from Fujian, China), they would say, “Oh, I didn’t know you could understand what we were saying!” It was as if I was always on the periphery of being just Chinese enough, but never being completely accepted, never being thought of as having the same capacity for language, or understanding, or holding the same values. If I acted in a headstrong way, it was attributed to the fact that I have been “Westernized”, ignoring the fact that I had never actually lived anywhere other than Singapore.
I studied at Cedar Girls’ Secondary School, and later on went to Ngee Ann Polytechnic – both public local institutions. Many strangers assumed I had been educated at one of the international schools simply because my dad was a white American. This made me an outsider to some.
It’s kind of funny to note that while a lot of Asian people get the grating “where are you from?” question in the United States, being of mixed race, I have to deal with this in my home country as well as in Boston. The summer after my sophomore year in college, I came home to work at a sushi bar and save money to visit my friend in Melbourne, Australia. Working in food service makes it completely impossible to dodge personal or inappropriate questions. One weekend night, as I was trying to place a heavy sashimi platter on a customer’s already cluttered table, I was stumped by her ill-timed posing of the age old question – “where are you from?” I replied that I was from “here”; thoroughly distracted by the game of Tetris I had to play with the dishes on the table. Her follow up question nearly resulted in me upending the entire plate of raw fish into her lap.
“Are you sure?”
While I’m sure of where I’m from, I’m still unsure of who I am becoming. While my position in the world as a mixed-race person occasionally causes me some frustration, it also has made me be open-minded to cultures and people different from me. I’m so excited by the different things I learn as I navigate new spaces and places. I would be delighted to have you accompany me on this exploration of my identity and how it changes in different settings, with different people.
Available to read in: 简体中文