My parents immigrated to the United States (my mother from Taiwan, my father from Malaysia) in 1980.
I associate with the Taiwanese and Chinese-Malaysian cultures. Although they’re significantly different, I cherish the contrast of what I understand and find it to be a privilege.
Chinese New Year tends to be the biggest holiday and one that I wish I could carry on with more fervor. When I was growing up, “hong bao”—red envelopes filled with money—were given to the children for good luck. Now I send and gift them to my nieces and nephews.
Generally, I’m pretty superstitious, typical of a Chinese upbringing. I like even numbers (but shy from “4” which sounds like the word for “death”) and rely on gut feelings and feng shui when arranging furniture or which way an apartment’s windows face. Southern and western exposure are best.
I speak Mandarin Chinese at an elementary level. My favorite expression is “huo gai,” used when you do something foolish but it was deserved. In any dialect, the ubiquitous “Ahhh yoooo!” is equivalent to the English “Ohmygod!”
I never learned how to read or write Chinese. Sometimes I feel inadequate or guilty about this but most of the time I just feel relieved that I understand some Chinese as many people my age worked so hard to assimilate, they lost all use of their native tongue.
In college I tried to take Reading and Writing for Native Speakers, but it was incredibly forced and challenging to learn 30 characters a night. I retained two characters out of an entire semester: “country” and “home.”
-Yen Azzaro, Michigan