Blog post by Tracy Yan, UC Berkeley, Hutong Intern Extraordinaire

I was only two years old when I boarded the plane with my parents to the United States, not knowing that I was leaving the rest of my family and friends to immigrate to a land across the Pacific Ocean. My parents, each firmly gripped one of my hands as we boarded. The two of them, both unable to string these foreign English words into sentences, chose to settle in Chinatown, Los Angeles.

Chinatown became a safe bubble for me because my friends and classmates came from similar backgrounds as mine, as most of them were either first or second generation Americans. It was not until I graduated from elementary school and attended a middle school in the nearby neighborhood when I realized that I was a part of a minority in America. No longer did I dare to speak Chinese at school, in fears of being called a “fob”- fresh off the boat. No longer did I dare to wear any sort of traditional wear at school, in fears of hearing “ching chong”. No longer did I dare pack Chinese food for my school field trips, in fears of being made fun of by my classmates. I tried my best to hide the fact that I went to Chinese School on the weekends, I begged my mom to stop buying me clothes from the stores in Chinatown, and I furiously chewed on the stale PB&J sandwiches offered by the school during field trips.

These feelings continued on until the last couple semesters of high school as I continued to hide parts of my culture, feeling ashamed and embarrassed. Every time I left for school, I knew that I was leaving my safety zone and I had to prepare for battle against any unwanted commentaries. Everyday, I had to put on a shield to pretend that I didn’t care about my culture and roots.

However, when I got into college, I ran into another crisis. The whole time I had been trying to reject my culture but now everyone seemed to be rushing to show their attachment to their culture and join culture related organizations. Standing at the middle of the crossroads, I thought to myself, “Is this where I can share my experiences, talk about Chinese dramas and variety shows? Is this where I’ll make friends who are down to get dim sum on the weekends?” I clearly remember confidently walking over to one of the Chinese student organizations. One of the members spoke to me in Mandarin. Although I could understand her, I could not form my reply in Mandarin and responded to her in English. Perhaps, she was expecting me to be an international student like herself as she showed clear disappointment and quickly responded before talking to someone else.

Fortunately, as I walked around, I stumbled upon the Project Pengyou table and the members were more welcoming. My three years at Berkeley allowed me to grow, intellectually and emotionally. I not only learned to appreciate my culture but different cultures as well. I’ve also learned to recognize that my experience as a Chinese American is unique and special as I can hold it to my advantage, being able to understand and grasp the values in both cultures to help build bridges in the US- China space.

In regards to my decision to intern in Beijing, I’ve built a special affection for the city during my previous summer studying abroad at Beijing Normal University. This summer, as an intern at The Hutong, I hope to be involved in the process of teaching others about Chinese culture and at the same time to bring myself closer to Chinese culture. I hope my internship at The Hutong will teach and provide me with the skills to tackle any future obstacles in my way. In particular, I hope that my acquired skills from The Hutong will assist my future pursuit of a career in the educational NGO sector.

The team at The Hutong has been extremely welcoming and supportive. I cannot wait to participate in the upcoming education programs!