Hello! For the month of May I am excited to celebrate Asian-American heritage. Each week will highlight either someone with Asian-American heritage or some aspect of Asian-American culture.
This week I’m sharing some of my thoughts on my Chinese heritage, as well as an interview with my mom, who is half-Chinese.
Meg Diefenbacher (née Bishop)
I am one-quarter Chinese. I know my red hair is a dead giveaway that I’m part Asian…kidding. I remember telling kids in school that I was part Chinese and no one believed me because I didn’t look Asian. I’d usually shrug and say, “sorry,” because what else are you supposed to say? They’d typically follow this observation one of two ways: either with the question, “do you know any Chinese words?” (yes) or the statement, “Your cousins all look Asian. You don’t.” Since I went to same school as four of my cousins, people knew we were related, but they didn’t know we were related on the same side of the family. They’d usually try to argue this, though I’m not sure why. As a result I always wished I looked more Chinese. I did take “Chinese lessons” for a brief period in the third grade taught by the parents of a friend who is Chinese, but I didn’t retain much and ultimately chose not to pursue the language.
My grandpa Wong died when I was young, so my memories of him are few. I remember talking to him on the phone and coloring with him. I remember him giving me two hot wheels cars (that I still have) and I have memories and images from home movies. I remember a very distinct moment in time where I learned that he was Chinese and that our family was part Asian. I thought that was so cool; I felt like a different person after that. I don’t feel that I can claim “Asian” on any forms or as part of my culture because I grew up as American as apple pie, but I am proud to consider myself part Asian. It is my identity because it’s my heritage, and that heritage makes me who I am.
Bonus fun fact: our family tree is not only Chinese, but Filipino too. My grandma’s brother Jake married my Aunt Lisa, who is from the Philippines. Every Memorial Day they’d host a huge cookout with our family and their Filipino friends, which meant a mix of American and Filipino dishes. Those parties are among my favorite childhood memories.
Brenda Bishop (née Wong)
Please describe your family tree.
My father was the middle child. He had an older and younger brother. He also had a “sister”, but details are sketchy and I’m not sure if she was adopted or his parents just took care of her. He lived in Canton, China which is located along the southern part of China. Apparently his family was considered to be part of the upper class until Japan invaded in 1937. Things changed drastically and my father was able to travel to Hong Kong with a companion, but at some point his older brother was put in a concentration camp where he died of TB. His mother was treated badly and I do not know what happened to his younger brother at that time as well as the “sister”. My father finally left Hong Kong in 1939 with his companion friend and arrived in New York. I do not have details, but somehow my grandpa Wong was able to leave China before my father could. My father didn’t talk about this period in his life, but I’m sure he was grateful to leave his town which was being taken over by the Japanese. The ironic thing is, my father was drafted in the U.S. Army in 1941.
Do you have other prominent family members who also immigrated from China?
My grandpa Wong came to America first, then my father came next. Years later my uncle Tony immigrated. I’m sure there were cousins as well, but I don’t know when they came to America. For some reason my grandma Wong did not want to immigrate to America. For a long time after my dad’s death relatives in China sent my mom money to buy flowers for his grave.
How did an Asian heritage influence your childhood? What are some of your best memories involving this heritage?
We actually had a more American upbringing than a Chinese one. My parents thought it was best to learn to speak English and not Cantonese. My dad instilled in us the value of higher education, a good work ethic and respecting your elders. I do remember having dinner parties with other Chinese families and that was always interesting because we ate exotic Chinese cuisine we normally didn’t eat at home.
How did being Asian-American affect your childhood in regards to other children/adults reacting to that heritage?
In middle school I was teased for my last name. It didn’t really bother me because I thought those kids were just immature. I don’t have strong Chinese features since my mom is American so adults didn’t seem to react to my heritage.
How does being Asian-American affect your adulthood, either positively or negatively?
I think my last name helped as far as getting a slot in college. The only negative thing I seem to remember is my friends thought my family was not as outgoing as other families, but I think Chinese culture tends to be more private about their affairs.
What are your favorite Asian or Asian-American cultural influences?
I think it would be having respect and compassion for people different than myself.