Asian-American Identity, Part III: Wait, How Could “Yes, Yes” Equal “No, No” | Haiyun Lu | 9 Min Read

I was taught in school to hate Japan and the Japanese people. I grew up in a rural area in central China.  My grandfather and great uncle fought in the wars against Japanese Imperialism. The scars and the traumatic memories, beginning with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, are freshly reopened by personal tales, movies, shows, school lessons, and propaganda in the news that occurs on a regular basis.  It is a widely shared sentiment in China that having hatred toward the Japanese is our patriotic duty.  I never questioned that belief before I left China.

My cultural shock began rather quickly after I landed at the Milwaukee airport 21 years ago.  My cultural identity of being a majority Chinese was challenged and dismantled shortly after my arrival.  I remembered during the initial “honeymoon” phase, everything I saw in the U.S. impressed me.  The blue sky, the endless green tree lines, the vast, ocean-like Lake Michigan, and wide-open space! And “Oh, my!”, free toilet paper in every stall in each bathroom! When I visited Milwaukee County Zoo, I was shocked by how well the wild animals lived! I viewed these animals with fascination!. 

Then I went through the phases of dissonance, resistance, and introspection. I was a mess!  I was constantly thrown off balance. Just when I thought I was able to make sense of something, a new experience would trigger a new set of questions. This would send me back to an entangled web of confusion, shock, and disbelief, followed by seeming clarity and certainty, and then confusion, shock, and disbelief… over and over again. 

After a while, when there was enough distance between myself and my upbringing, when there was a healthy distance between myself and my new country, I began to wonder, doubt, and question.

Throughout the years living in my new home country, I made lots of personal friends from all walks of life.  When I hosted a party, my Jewish, German, Iranian, Cameroonian, Macedonian, Spanish, Columbian, and Indian friends would all mingle with each other. Everybody treated everybody with love and respect, and everybody had a good time together.

Two of the many questions I began to ask myself were: “Do I have to hate Japan in order to prove my love for China?  If one differs from the accepted group thinking, can one still be accepted by their own community?”

These questions…

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Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.