Culture: No Choice

Caught between two cultures, I have so many issues with both. I’m always too much inside not to see problems, but always too much of an outsider not to be bothered by them.

So I’m stuck with the blessing and curse of being with two — at times — extremely irritating cultures with people ruled by tonnes of hidden problems. At the same time, I wouldn’t have it any other way: I’m glad I can’t just accept things as easily, and I’m very glad I have the benefit of both traditions.

I must admit, I think most of the time immigrants’ children talking about this are just whiny, because they’re really more one than the other, while I’m tempted to believe that I’m the only one with this experience. And here I’ll probably be emo saying that I actually do occupy this unpleasant position. Most American-born Chinese can ultimately admit that at their core they’re actually American and that they almost just happen to have Chinese parents. They often speak pretty bad Chinese and eat Chinese because they’ve grown up with that food. I’m wont to believe that everything they deal with is but fragments of my encounters with two very messed-up worlds.

I’m not saying their experience is invalid or not worth talking about, but it seems to me that their discomfort with America is more with American attitudes toward people who look like them, or the things that Americans seem to hate about themselves. For all intents and purposes, I feel a lot less whitewashed than a large majority of the Chinese American population, but I’m very ambivalent about Chinese people, and my beef isn’t even with my experiences with my parents.

Sometimes my criticisms of Chinese and American culture are actually the same. Often it’s the same hypocrisies and sinful practices that characterize both in slightly different ways: it’s these things that drive me absolutely batty. It’s not that I see nothing redeemable in them, because I actually appreciate a lot of what’s in the intellectual traditions of both worlds. Rather, it’s the disconnect I see between the ideas and ideals in books and the very real depravity of man. It makes me want to alienate myself from all the low culture and associate with just the good aspects of the high culture of China and the West.

If I were a pragmatist in the way that both Chinese and Americans typically are (no racism intended), I’d just have to learn to accept these things as the material I had to work with, where nothing could ever change except by reassembly of the same elements, with the same adulterations and the same disgusting flaws. However, it’s precisely because I know there’s a hope for the race of Adam that I’m so very frustrated: God just seems to work so slowly, or perhaps even not at all. People everywhere reject His ways and want to adopt social constructs that damage humanity and dishonour the Creator.

It reminds me that followers of Jesus Christ are in the world but not of the world. Even with the knowledge of the myriad issues with both cultures, I still have — one might call it sadism — the desire to raise children with the same cultural homelessness, the same longing for these cultures to be purged of the devils that afflict them. It’s true. I have very loving parents and a very loving fellowship in church, but it’s equally true notwithstanding that I’ve never had a home: any sense of “home” that I’ve ever had, even with my desire for rootedness in a millennia-old context over the transience of the modern world, has never been earth-bound.

Perhaps, then, it’s not a useless annoyance to have to put up with two cultures and their tragic flaws. By the grace of the all-sovereign God, it may even be a blessing, painful as it is to live with it, that I can long for a better city, a better citizenship, a better bond, for country, for glory, for eternity.

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