A Bill Moyers Special - Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

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Hot Dogs and Apple Pie

"America is my familiar world and China is something I have to learn." "

By Helen Zia

Helen Zia is a community activist and author whose books include Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. The interview below was conducted for Becoming American: The Chinese Experience.

My parents were the first generation. They were the immigrants. They both taught us a lot of stories. My father would tell us that the Chinese were wearing magnificent silks when everybody else on earth was running around naked. That was just one of many things about China for us to be proud of. He knew that we as American-born Chinese kids really had no way of connecting with China except through his eyes. This was at the same when he and my mother and other Chinese Americans suffered great discrimination. Throughout that, he would still try to imbue us with a great sense of dignity and a sense of who we are as Chinese.

For me, as a second-generation, American-born Chinese, that is the struggle of our parents' generation. They want us to hold on tight to those elements of Chinese culture. But I'd never been there. I identified much more with hot dogs, apple pie, baseball, Chevrolet. The relationship between child and Chinese parent was often a struggle between the two cultures. The values I knew and was learning were as an American kid. I was also trying to bridge this notion of being Chinese. My parents' interpretation of being Chinese was very traditional. Their world was China and struggling to survive in America. For me, it was the opposite. America is my familiar world and China is something I have to learn.