Xiao Long Bao & Pick Up Stix

Rather than focusing on the concept of cultural assimilation, we should celebrate the various beautiful aspects of culture- both foreign and our own


Cartoon by Summer Aguirre

Assimilation is not always a necessary rite of passage for American immigrants.

I do not have an obligation to assimilate.

By assimilating, it would mean that I give up parts of my cultural identity. The American identity has been pushed upon me, but I refuse to give up the Chinese part of who I am. By giving up my cultural identity, I become just an American, not a Chinese American, with no ties to my own heritage and culture.

When I was in elementary school, I often pestered my mother to make me American food- sandwiches, pizza rolls, things that other students ate. But my mom continued making me Chinese food like dumplings, reminding me that Chinese food was part of who I am. As much as I could try to adapt to the “American” way of life, my mom explained, “You can never hide from your Chinese heritage.”

The people from my elementary school told me to assimilate. I ate Chinese food that smelled weird and looked “disgusting” while they ate Americanized Chinese food in the form of Pick Up Stix. When I told them Panda Express disgusted me, they looked at me with confusion. “But you’re Chinese,” they would say. “You have to like Panda Express.” But when I told them that Panda Express was not authentic Chinese food, they told me I was wrong. Upset, I turned to rant to my parents: how could I, a Chinese girl steadily fed a daily diet of traditional Chinese foods, not know what authentic Chinese food was? They assured me I was right, but the confidence I had in my own identity steadily eroded under such constant pressure.

America, since its founding, was supposed to be a land of many cultures. But as I grew, it appeared to me that I could only be American. I rarely saw people of my race on the big screen and never saw another person genuinely interested in Chinese culture for reasons other than school. When I spoke Chinese to other Chinese students, I was looked at and spoken about in whispers.

But in recent years, there’s been a revival in movements for pride in cultural heritage. I’ve learned to accept my heritage and gain confidence in my language and my food. I can take pride in my culture- in the 5000 years’ history behind the language, in the customs of making dumplings on Lunar New Year, in the family gatherings every season to celebrate different holidays. I can be proud of the family I had the fortune of being born into, as well as the country I live in.

I have gained confidence in my own identity that will not erode under pressure.

To assimilate, to me, means to give up this sense of identity and erode under that pressure. It means that I must give up my identity and become just an American even when I’m more than that. I always will be proud to be an ABC- American-born Chinese. Nothing can change the fact, even if I give up my culture and heritage, I still bear that title. So I bear it proudly and I bear my culture. I am proudly Chinese.

I do not need to assimilate and I should not feel obligated to assimilate.

Assimilation is a choice- a personal one. It is a choice that impacts the person’s life so drastically only the individual should make it. No society should pressure them, no culture should force them. Assimilation is personal. Assimilation is a choice.