Growing up as a Chinese-American could best be described as a struggle, an identity crisis. As an adolescent, “Americanized” was synonymous to status. First to assimilate was my name. My official name is Stephanie Wing-Yin Hon. Wing-Yin was my parents’ way of keeping some heritage attached to me but it dropped ranks to my middle-name, which was often shortened to W or left out completely. It didn’t really matter since I can’t recall if anyone ever even used it to refer to me. I was initially raised bilingual, Cantonese was spoken at home with my family and English with everyone else. It didn’t last very long when I slipped an exasperated “aiyah” in Pre-K, which led to endless sneers and gestures at Chinese facial features. Along with language was clothing.What remained a constant, however, was food. Breakfast was a give and take, cereal and toast on weekdays but congee, dim sum, and roast pork buns from Chinatown on weekends. Lunch was eaten at school so there wasn’t much room for control. Dinner was a completely different story. Dinner was cooked by my mom and rarely was it anything American unless we dined out. Even then, a majority of the time was at Chinese restaurants. Dinner was the lasting attachment to tradition. It was the remaining link of my parents’ life in Hong Kong to their life in America.
Ironically, it also became the starting point to my journey back to reverse my Americanized life.
I left New York City for college and consequently lost the lasting link to my ethnicity. A longing for the taste of home, led me to a longing for Chinese cuisine. I began practicing my Cantonese when I called home. More importantly, I began practicing Cantonese in order to order food at Chinese restaurants on my own now. When I returned home, I began cooking Chinese food because that’s what my parents preferred to eat and that was my starting point to retaining that link. Slowly, I am making my way full circle. From trying to clear all evidence of my Chinese half to trying to relinquish everything I could. For me, life as a Chinese-American was a battle to get rid of and now to salvage my Chinese identity.