My bond with my Chinese culture, simultaneously fragile and formidable, has irrevocably shaped the person I am today. With Give Us The Floor, I’ve used lessons from my heritage to foster support, openness, and confidence.
Though I now embrace the traditions and values that I grew up with, that help me and help others, I once feared and shunned them.In desperate attempts to assimilate when I was young, I abandoned fried rice for mac and cheese, chopsticks for forks, and Mandarin for English. As a self-aware, regretful teen, I could only cling to what seemed like sparse remnants of my ethnicity.
During one summer, my father and I ventured into the streets of Shanghai. While we strolled along the Huangpu River, cursing the never-ending swarm of mosquitoes, I marveled at the advancement around us. Here was one of the biggest cities in the world: a fashion hub, an epicenter for innovation, an economic and cultural powerhouse.
We walked further, stumbling across the Confucius Temple. With 700-year-old glazed roof tiles and ornately-carved statues while being nestled in the hurried metropolis of urban Shanghai, it was both a time capsule and a refuge. Visitors could write down a desire and attach it to trees or designated boards, hoping that the universe would recognize their yearning. The garden featured leaves waltzing with both archaic paper wishes and ones freshly written by a 16-year-old pleading for wisdom.
It was at the centuries-old temple that I realized how much my culture still coursed through my veins. Despite losing much of my Mandarin, I’ve been working to repair those cracks in college, taking Chinese language courses and engaging with other students who would sympathize with “I can understand it, but reading and writing is a different story.” I still can connect with relatives, using new phrases I learned in class that light up their faces. My immigrant parents made sure that we never missed both Lunar New Year and Independence Day.
It was at the centuries-old temple that I realized I too was like Shanghai: the result of tradition and modernity, never changing yet always evolving.
And now, I have grown to be proud of my heritage. I love being Asian-American, experiencing the paradoxical joys of cultural antithesis. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when anti-Asian sentiment was on the rise, the historian within me even began to research Asian heroes whose stories were lost to time, drawing their figures and memorializing their achievements with an Instagram account.
And in my own way, I learned to apply that cultural pride with Give Us the Floor.
In China, there is a great emphasis on the value of the community as opposed to the individual. There is strength in numbers, and the experience I shared with my group proved that.
There was a member who felt overwhelmed by schoolwork. Being tired, overworked high school students, we could all empathize deeply; how many times had we each stayed up to work on an essay or project? I suggested that we help her with subjects we were best at: I worked with her on history, while others focused on math and science. We exchanged instructional videos, old worksheets and practice questions, and motivational quotes to boost her own determination and hard work.
It was incredible to see the group – once strangers, now a family – unite over the internet to help a fellow student out.
After several months, it was incredibly rewarding for all of us to see her screenshot of As and Bs, the result of her own efforts amplified by a supportive environment. But she wasn’t the only one who acquired a wealth of new information.
All of us realized an important axiom: personal strengths go to waste unless they are utilized to help others. 众人拾柴火焰高。
The young Chinese-American girl who didn’t know who she was? She figured it out, and the world too.