An excerpt of… something. Not what it appears to be.

“Where are you from?”

It’s an easy question, but I never know how to answer.

“America,” I could say. But then they would think of New York. California. They would think of Taylor Swift, and Big Bang Theory, and guns. All of these things are American. But they are not who I am.

“Texas,” I could say. But then they would think of cowboys. Steaks. They would think of George Bush, and the Rockets, and, again, guns. All of these things are Texan. But they are not who I am.

“I’m from a small town,” I could say. But American “small towns” are so different from Chinese ones. A small town in China can still have a million people. My home town only has twenty five thousand people. That would be a “village” (农村) in China, but my hometown is nothing like a Chinese village. I don’t think my Chinese friends could imagine what my home town is like, unless they go there.

My Chinese friends can only use their imaginations to understand where I come from. But the “America” in their imaginations is very different from my home.

It’s the same for you, too. Tell an American that you a Chinese, and they would think about kung fu. Dragons. They would think of Mao Zedong, and crowded trains, and fried rice. It’s impossible for them to imagine what China is really like. If you have ever talked to an American about China, you know exactly what I mean.

So if we want to know each other, we have to start from scratch. Forget what you know about America. I’ll forget what I know about China. I’ll listen to your story, and you listen to my story, and if we can understand each other, then we can be friends.

Deal? Deal. Let’s begin.

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2 Responses to An excerpt of… something. Not what it appears to be.

  1. Dalia says:

    love this post josh. living in the middle east i’ve been frustrated that all my identities and experiences boil down to that one question. i much prefer starting from scratch! wishing you well!

    • Hollacopter says:

      Hi, Dalia! WordPress didn’t tell me that you’d posted – I just happened across it, and I’m glad to hear from you!

      I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but most of my friendships over here never escape that question. Friends I’ve known for years, with whom I’ve shared spicy Mexican food or even super-spicy Sichuan hot pot, still sometimes ask me, “Hey, can you eat spicy stuff?”, because, you know, “Americans” don’t eat spicy food.

      It’s annoying, but I’m grateful at the same time. I believe anyone from the privileged class of any society should be required to spend a few years being “othered” by somebody else’s privileged class.

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