Because I’m a Chinese girl

At playground, Claire is always reluctant to try the Monkey Bar while other kids seems so good at it. “You can do it, just try!” In spite of our encouragements, she turns herself quickly away. If we continue to push her, she would say, “because I’m a Chinese girl”. She has made a good reasoning, since in China, we hardly see Monkey Bars in Kindergarten and she had never tried them before.

She will soon turn 5 and we are considering to put her bed in her own room. When her friends came for a playdate, we felt embarrassed to explain that she was still sleeping in our room because the other room is downstairs which makes her feel unsafe. In fact, kids and parents co-sleep much longer in China than in other countries. Now she still sticks to this idea and refuses to embrace her freedom: “because I’m a Chinese girl”.

We call her grandma from time to time and each time she reminds us to protect more and better her granddaughter, because Claire is different and the only one. The other day, when we mentioned that American young people were all financially independent and that young couple had tight budget, she repeated that we should absolutely save money in bank for our daughter’s future, because we were definitely a Chinese family.

I never have considered seriously the question of identity, believing that American is after all a “cultural melting pot”. I’m never involved in any discussion about the competition between US and China, believing that nationalism is an evil. We didn’t see much olympic games, avoiding the discussion of national pride at table but cheering for the admirable beauty and strength of certain athletes.

However, even all ethnics can enjoy the equal rights and been treated fairly, we still face so many questions risen from identity. Some are pseudo-problems, like the Monkey Bar, some are traditions, like co-sleeping, some are just personal perspective, like the financement. There are not big deals. But some are serious, like the recent Chinese community protest demonstration in Paris. Living in this multi-culturiste society, I’m shocked everyday by the media focus on race hatred.

One Chinese mom has decided to change school for her daughter, because she is the only Chinese girl in her grade with the majority of white people. She supposed that there would be more bully and more discrimination towards her daughter. She is more concerned about her daughter’s feeling of others’ judgements.

Claire is only 5 and she is lucky. She hasn’t experienced unreasonable harm caused by her identity. When one of her friend told her that his parents would forbid him from going to China even when he was grownup, she just made a sound comment: “Yes, because you may probably be sick by the smog, like me.”Her daddy and me didn’t make any further comments on this story, although we were kind of disappointed by the image of China that these parents might hold.

But Claire does become more and more aware of her identity and attributes it as excuse, guilty, frustration and loneliness. What I want to tell her is: Everyone is different, that’s nature, but everyone can be good, kind and strong. Keep trying!


An imaginary friend

I was skimming the suggested blog posts and caught by this title #for all the lonely children with imaginary friends, from Kiprop Kimutai’s blog.  I remembered writing a post about the same subject, but in French, several months ago. (My blog in French)

I read again my article and was always moved. So I translate myself and rewrite it.

To our surprise, Claire didn’t cry the first day she went to school. With little knowledge of English, she was the only one Chinese girl in her preschool. “Children learn fast!”teachers there seemed confident in her. But we still worried a lot, not only about language difficulties, but also about the different culture she would encounter. In Claire’s former Chinese preschool, children were well disciplined. There was even a fixed time for bathroom. If the teacher was speaking, no one dared to talk. At lunch time, all kids ate the same things prepared by school.

In the first weeks, Claire remained silent, which was normal. Feeling so lonely,  she just stayed still in her chair, when other kids were listening to the story. She even refused to drink water since she didn’t know what was the time to go bathroom or didn’t dare to go there by herself when the others played outside. Sometimes, she took others’ kindness for defiance. “I didn’t cry today.” It was the first sentence we heard when picking her up in the afternoon. She knew what made us happy and proud. But in the meantime, she asked us to pick her earlier.

One day, her dad was delighted to see a Chinese woman at the parking of Claire’s preschool, who was talking with a little child in our language. We thought that a new student might be enrolled recently and Claire might make friends with this guy. Later, our conversation was all about this discovery.

Claire was excited to learn the new coming. Being asked for several times, she confirmed the news and told us that Yiha happened to be in her class.

“What a strange name! Is she Chinese?” we turned also excited.

“Her mom is Chinese and her dad speaks Spanish. She can speak English too.” It could be true, as we live near the border and I saw already several mixed couples.

Every day, we knew a little more about this Yiha. Sometimes, we asked questions about her. Sometimes, Claire spontaneously told us her story. This girl was born in America and never knew China. But she spokes so well English and help Claire to explain teachers’ instructions.

“What does she eat for lunch?” I was especially curious about this point, which was also my daily concern.

“Like me, cooked rice with shrimp.” cheered Claire, what made me relaxed. There was finally another child who was familiar with warm lunch.

One month later, all parents were invited to attend a festival at school. We discovered with astonishment the beautiful art works made by children. They were all hung up on several murals. “Claire was an artiste and she drew amazing pictures,” told us her main teacher. Indeed, our daughter spent a lot of time in drawing. She even draw pictures for each classmate as a present of valentine’s day. She drew a lot at school and took several pictures to home.

We were eager to meet Yiha and her family. But she was not there and there was no art work signed with this name. “Maybe she was sick,” Claire explained.

One week later, it was a parade day at school and I went there to help. I stayed even at lunch time. “What a pity, Yiha wasn’t here today.” I signed. At theses words, Claire’s teachers were surprised. I turned to them to ask information about this Chinese girl. “Really? But we don’t have her in our class.” One of her teacher tried to figure out if she was in another class, because the school was small and that all kids played together in the afternoon.

Claire’s face turned rad and she left the table with the lunch unfinished. She asked the other teacher to play with her. Watching her leaving the table, I suddenly realize that there was no Yiha anywhere. One teacher had gone to the next room to look for this Yiha and came back confused. I walked to her and explained that it might be just imaginary. “Oh!”, she opened her eyes and then pet my shoulder, “let it go.”

My eyes were wet. What my daughter had gone through all the last month? Why did she need to lie to us? Staring at her back, I felt so sorry and guilty. Did we put so much pressure on her? Did she make all theses stories just to reduce our anxious? How could I talk to her with this discovery.

The lie was always considered as a sin in our family. When her dad got the point, he was extremely angry,”it was impossible. Do you mean that she has some psychological problem?” Even we knew that it was hurting to her, we talked about the issue at diner.

“That’s awful, I lied. ” Claire cried,”that’s awful.” I thought that she might be chocked by herself and could not believe that she was a liar. Perfect liar.

Then, I remembered what said her teacher, “let it go”. So we stopped mentioning it.

One night, Claire suddenly recalled this story and with tears, she asked me to forgive her.

“But why?”

“Because I just want to have a friend, my friend.” she whispered.

It was my turn to wipe my tears.

“You will, very soon.” I hugged her.

It is true that children can get used to a new life quickly. But still not so quickly.  We can hardly imagine in what a solitary and scary world they fight and move on. How brave should thy make themselves to face the new life, which means attractive discoveries and intermittent fears.



To change life, change mind first

Recently, there was a widespread article in the most popular Chinese social media Wechat, in which a middle-aged dad released the reasons why he chose to immigrate to the U.S. He was planning to buy an apartment near a good school district in Beijing, which would cost him 3 millions Yuans. But the day he was going to pay the guarantee deposit, the house owner raised the price by 300 000 Yuans. Disappointed with this change, the father decided to use the money on an investment program, which allowed him to get the green card of USA. He thought that life in Beijing was so stressful, including job, housing and education, but life in the U.S means good education, cheaper housing and quality of free time.

Soon, this article triggered different opinions, including those expressed by some American-Chinese people. Another father wrote a long response to this man, having gone through himself the similar experience. He now found that the reality was not as good as expected. Just talking about kids, the Asian children suffer a lot in study. So many suicides occurred in Asian family in California because of pressure. He provided many photos, which show that children spend so much time on math or other competition preparation after school, just as what children do in China. To be accepted by good universities, they should demonstrate more abilities and excellence in special fields. So Chinese parents anxiously look for good school and prepare their kids to artistic performance. If one wants to live nearby a good school, he should afford the high-priced housing.

I didn’t agree with the first father who dropped all just to follow his illusions of U.S. He believed naively all the advantages he could get in the new country. I didn’t agree neither with the second father who still sticks to the single-side definition of success. In many American cities, Asian people still believe that competition is the only way to make people stand out and that children must cherish every minute to prepare for their future.

One day, when dinning with our neighbors, my husband expressed his dream: send Claire to an excellent university, such as Harvard. Since our daughter wants to be a doctor, we should put aside a big amount of money and assure her proficiency in different materials.

“But if she turns out to be an artist?” suggested one old lady.

We didn’t answer. Indeed, Claire loves drawing and she made amazing pictures. But we never imagined an artist career for her, because it was portrayed with pain and misery.  But we cannot control a child’s future, neither their path. We always impose our own dream on our kids and make them accept our definition of success. That’s very stressful for them.

Now we are living in a new country, embracing a very different culture.  The fist thing to learn is to open our mind. If not, we are imprisoned in some biased thoughts. For example, for all Chinese, the optimal success of a child is being a student of Harvard. However, university is just a step of one’s life while life is long, very long.