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Tong Tong

Professor Cohen

EDUC B260: Multicultural Education


Cultural Autobiography


        The word “identity” has been in my dictionary for only 18 months, the time I spent here in America. I have never heard this term, never thought about this idea, and could not even find a translation in Chinese. Berlak wrote: “No one was white before s/he came to America.” This is exactly how I feel. When I was first asked about my identity, I did not know how to answer this question, and neither did I understand how my past had shaped my identity. As I started to take classes involving issues like race, gender and nationality, I began to ask myself the question: “How do you identify yourself?”


        When I think about what makes me who I am, I will always think of my family. I was born and raised in coastal China as the only child of my family. I was taught to work hard, to care for others, to appreciate literature and all the other best things in my life. But I also suffered from the stereotypical traditional Chinese parents who hit me when I misbehaved, till I was 17. (Please don’t think they abused me because hitting child is very common in China.) After I came to Bryn Mawr, I started to have these labels put on me by myself, and these labels are my identities.


        I am a listener who learns Education primarily hoping to be a great mom. When I was 10, I realized that parents were not supposed to hit their child and it was illegal to do so. Then I confronted my parents, threatening that I would sue them for “abusing” me, and they laughed at me. Even after I turned to be an adult, when I tried to talk to them about hitting me when I was a kid, they would tell me they did not regret at all because they hit me for my own good. What truly makes me stepping into the field of Education was that my parents told me I would hit my child when I turn to be a mother because hitting child is necessary in education. I want to prove they are wrong. That is the first things gets me into Education. I want to be a mother who never hits child and is able to communicate with child through language, not violence.


        I am a feminist. Witnessing how my mom sacrifices herself for the sake of my dad has taught me the inequality between men and women. I tried to convince my mom that she should speak up for herself, stop tolerating the temper of my dad and do things that will please her. But she always replied me by telling me I should learn to be a good wife so that I won’t be hurt by my future husband. I was so confused because I could not understand why we women, the side of being oppressed, needed to change to cater men. And this is not the only things that confused me. I was also deeply confused when I talked to me dad about studying abroad, dating someone I like and going to skydiving, he always told me I could do everything I wanted if I were a boy. I understand he was trying to protect me, but his concerns should be the concerns of all the fathers, but not the fathers who have daughters. All the inequality I witnessed and experienced as a girl/woman in my family has made me a feminist who believes men and women are equal and women should have every right to choose their own life without being judged.


        I am a Chinese. I prefer to say I am a Chinese rather than I am an Asian, even when I need to fill a form asking for my race, I still feel distant from the option “Asian”. Raised by parents who work for government, I started to be aware of politics at a young age. My dad truly dedicated himself to make me “politically right” in a Chinese sense. He was even concerned about me coming to America that he worried I would turn against my country under the propaganda of “democracy”. I am very patriotic, towards my country not necessarily my government, that my patriotism is way too steady to be changed by my life here in America. And what is even more surprising is that I never realize I love China so much until I came to America, hearing the untrue rumors about my country, being judged because I am a Chinese and being told I was brainwashed by my government no matter how hard I tried to clarify. The other reason I prefer Chinese over Asian was because I was never taught that Asian is a race, and I still believe it is not. I am Mongoloid, and in Chinese we call ourselves “Yellow”.  


        I am also against “labels”. Although I started to identify myself after I came here, I still feel weird when people ask me how do I identify myself. I think the primary reason is that all my identities seem to be the weaker side of this society: woman, Chinese, Asian and etc. In “Becoming Multicultural Educators”, Huang talked about how she resisted the temptation of making decisions for her students although she felt obligated to teach her students about the injustices (P181). This is exactly how I felt through my interaction with “identity”: it makes me vulnerable. I know there are injustices in this world related to race, gender and nationality, however, I do not want to be the vulnerable side. Injustices are there, but that does not mean injustices are necessarily every where. I hate that by identifying myself as woman and Chinese, I’m putting myself into the victim side of patrimony and racism because I will be told that I’m discriminated despite the occasion. 


        I identify myself because I believe I am unique, and everyone is. Identity can never be over-emphasized because it stands for our respect towards “difference” but not “inequality”. However, I do feel identity is over-emphasized that we tend to categorize people by their identities instead of treating everyone as an individual. I feel uncomfortable when people say they do not see color because I am a person of color, how could they not see it? During a talk with my friend, we agreed that instead of calling everyone “American”, we should add “White American” into the existing categories of “American” because we are different but equal. And I think this resonates with what Hall wrote “….not negatively to stop disadvantages, but positively to advance a recognition of diversity as a basis of social being and as a positive goal of social action….” (P14). 


        For every identity I have, I’m grateful of having empathic listeners accompanied me at every stage of my life that just like how Boler put it “the listener plays a tremendous role in the production of truth, and relations of power are thus foregrounded” (P168). It is because of all these listeners that I have the agency in developing my own identity yet being able to release the stress coming from my identity. 







Works Cited

Berlak, Ann. "How I Developed an "Obduracy of Tone"" Taking It Personally: Racism in the Classroom from Kindergarten to College. Ed. Sekani Moyenda. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2001. 39. Print.

Boler, Megan. "The Risks of Empathy." Feeling Power: Emotions and Education. New York: Routledge, 1999. 168. Print.

Hall, Stuart. The Multicultural Question. Milton Keynes, UK: Pavis Centre for Social and Cultural Research, The Open U, 2001. Print.

Huang, Chia-lin. "Professional Actions Echo Personal Experiences." Becoming Multicultural Educators: Personal Journey toward Professional Agency. Ed. Geneva Gay. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003. 181. Print.