My name is Leo Wong and I am an American born Chinese. I was born in and grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, CA. Los Angeles is known to be a diverse city filled with individuals from all types of backgrounds. While that is true to a certain extent, the thing that people don’t realize is that these groups of individuals self-segregate.
San Gabriel, the city that I currently reside in, is primarily comprised of Asians and Latinos. My high school was 45% Asian, 45% Latino, and 10% Caucasian, Native American, and African American combined. Each city in the Los Angeles county was home primarily to one cultural group – Glendale with the Armenians, Monterey Park to the Chinese, El Monte to the Latinos, West Covina to the Filipinos, etc. I was lucky that when I as growing up, my mother instilled in me the quality of being open minded and throughout life, I have maintained to keep an open mind in meeting new people judging them on their personality and experiences rather than solely on their physical attributes or background.
When college application season came around, I had a big decision to make. I asked myself “Do I want to be like everyone else and stay within California at a UC or venture out of my comfort zone and explore a new area of the US?” Needless to say, I chose the latter because I knew that I was always different from my peers. I didn’t have a “Tiger Mom” that forced me to focus strictly on academics. Instead, I had a very liberal and open minded mother who encouraged me to pursue my passions and supported me in my endeavors. She is actually the reason that I ventured out of California to attend Syracuse University because she wanted me to meet different types of people, explore a new environment, and discover myself independently. I sincerely thank her for that extra push and unconditional support and encouragement.
Though my family isn’t the traditional Chinese family that goes to the temple every weekend, mandates their child to play the violin or piano, forces their child to be strictly academically focused getting nothing less than straight A’s, pushes their child to pursue a career that will simply make them wealthy, and is overall very conservative and narrow minded, I am still very active in embracing my culture. I speak Cantonese fluently and Mandarin conversationally, I have been back to Hong Kong and China multiple times, I actively participate in traditional Chinese holidays like Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year, and I absolutely love Chinese food (cooking and of course eating).
When I chose to come to Syracuse University, I knew what I was getting into. I was going to be giving up authentic Chinese food, speaking Chinese on a daily basis, celebrating Chinese holidays with family, and ultimately, having people that understood me and my culture. I knew that I was going from the majority to the minority – and I was okay with that. I sincerely believe that stereotypes for all cultures exist for a reason, but they should not be generalized to an entire ethnic or cultural group. I realize that not everyone understands my culture and may be ignorant at times with insensitive comments, but I know that it is my duty to not only point out these faults but educate them on my culture as well. Syracuse University has honestly made me embrace my Chinese heritage even more because I realized that this is a unique part of my personal identity that I should share with others. With that realization, I have decided to share my unique viewpoints when it comes to class discussions, the student organizations I am involved in, and in daily interactions when appropriate.
Ultimately, being an American born Chinese is a part of my identity. Though it took time for me to realize what a profound impact it had on me, I am glad that I eventually embraced it. With society changing on a daily basis, culture seems to be lost little by little with the changing times. Languages are less spoken, stories are lost, and traditions are forgotten. Everyone, no matter who you are, has a cultural background and I urge you to embrace it.