Defending Hybrid Identity: Reconciling the New and the Old


By Phoebe Sudargo | Asian Students in America

One question that I am tired of being asked of is: “where are you from?” Over the years, I have been debating to give one default answer. Should it be: “China,” “Indonesia,” or “Seattle?” My experience tells me that each of those answers would yield different stereotypes, which 90% of the time are not true.

My family originates from the Southern part of China. During the World War II, when communism regime ruled and poverty struck the entire land, my grandparents left China and migrated to Indonesia to seek a better life. To this day, whenever I look at my current condition, I thank them for making those decisions.

However, simultaneously being Chinese and growing up in Indonesia contributed to my first cultural identity crisis. I grew up speaking Chinese and English since I went to an international school, but I am also forced to learn the native language to communicate with the native people. And my father chose to adopt an Indonesian surname—while still keeping our Chinese surname—in order to “blend in” more with the locals. He claimed it would make it easier to do business with them. To me, it was a pathetic attempt at cultural homogenization. No matter what, I still fail to accept the Indonesian culture and identity completely.

When I moved to the United States for high school four years ago, I experienced my second cultural identity crisis. This time it was the classic “East versus West” cultural clash that most second-generation Asian immigrants would experience. I was very much intrigued by the liberal way of life that western ideology offers, making me abandon most of my eastern ideology in favor of this new way of life. I could not help but think that collectivist and patriarchal ideas are unnecessarily restrictive and unfair, especially for the female.

Thus, when I visited my parents during my first summer break, what ought to be heart-warming reunion turned into horrible family quarrels that happened nearly every day. I talked back to my parents most of the time, something they never expected me to do. Opposing your parents is simply a taboo and disrespectful. I could not wait to go back to my “home” in Seattle where I was free to express my ideas and live the way I want.

But, when I moved from Seattle to Syracuse, where the Asian population is considerably smaller than in the west coast, I began to appreciate how precious the Asian culture was. And I cannot help but to gravitate towards the Asian community here. I find comfort in my Chinese friends, whom not only speak the same language as I do, but also share the same diasporic experiences. And through ASIA, an Asian American student organization on campus, I find how my fellow Asian friends are also struggling with their American and Asian identity. Through them, I learn that when it comes to cultural identity, there is no dichotomous way of deciding. It is fine to be a hybrid. It is fine to live and think from both sides of Asian and American culture. And more importantly, it is unique and beautiful to be Asian American.

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