SHANN ORMSBEE
June 17, 2017
ELZBIETA KUBOK
June 17, 2017

CHINYI CHEN

“I often find myself torn whenever I face the question of where I’m from. So much of me is made up of the people who have touched my life, the places I’ve lived in, and the moments that have shifted how I see the world, but I feel like people are often looking for a single, fixed label to place to my face – when really where I call home is more than just a place on an official document that allows me entry into a country. The disconnect between how I self-identify and how others choose to identify me can be really tiring. I grew up mostly in Singapore, which has influenced so many of the values I hold close, and where my family still lives: but I’ve also lived in Guatemala, South Korea, and Morocco, and I’ve found homes and languages and people in all of these places who have shaped who I am now.

Humans are such funny creatures – we have this tendency to simplify and categorize in order to understand instead of being comfortable with the grey. But the grey is where I live, and struggle, and thrive, for better or for worse. My multiple identities, they intersect in various ways: visible and invisible, represented and underrepresented, and these identities, they ebb and flow with the cultures and the social systems I live in. It’s taken me years and time spent living in different countries to make my own peace with some of them – while others are incredibly salient to me every single day.

It’s not easy, being hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away from people I love, and having been constantly on the move. It means that while I know I have people who have my back from all over, they aren’t here by my side, and I’ve had to build new support networks over and over again. It also means that I’ve learned a lot about pain, and loss, and living: I lost both my mother and my granddad quite unexpectedly in separate instances while I was living abroad, and I still carry those experiences with me to this day. It’s not easy, feeling like you’re from multiple worlds and being homesick for various communities, but not really belonging to any of them. I was the only individual in college with my cultural background for several years, both as a student and member of staff – and yet, because I was visibly Asian and international, I found myself colored with a singular narrative that left me feeling like an immense part of myself was mostly going unseen and unheard.

It hasn’t been easy, but it’s also been incredibly valuable, and these experiences, they are part of what drives me to keep learning, to keep staying curious, and to keep asking why. Now more than ever, I think we need to be advocating for each other and our diverse gifts: we need to learn how, and the ways in which we can get there are multifaceted. Is it interacting with someone outside of the cultural systems you were brought up in? Or checking yourself when you come into contact with perspectives and factors that make you uncomfortable? Or is it being willing to not only celebrate, but also acknowledge and struggle with, each other? In any case, if we want to fully hold spaces for each other, we need to be at least asking these questions, and if we aren’t – well, why not?”

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