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Why our culture is a seed, not a treasure

Our culture and heritage is part of who we are. But if we treat it as something that can't change, if we feel threatened by other cultures, says award-winning children's books author Grace Lin, "we make our lives smaller." Lin shares her humble opinion on the importance of allowing culture to change.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The feature film "Crazy Rich Asians" topped the box office this weekend, and with it a debate about cultural identity.

    Tonight, award-winning children's book author Grace Lin shares her Humble Opinion on recognizing the even deeply ingrained culture can change.

  • Grace Lin:

    Many of my books integrate Chinese traditions and adapted folk tales, so Asian parents with American-born children often ask me, how can I make my child be Chinese?

    And I have to tell them, your child will never be Chinese. By being born here and living here, your child will always be Chinese-American. And that is hard for those who are afraid of losing their culture.

    And I completely sympathize, because I feel the same way. It's why I write the books that I do. Our culture, our heritage is a part of who we are. We use it to claim our identity, so we can find true belonging in a group.

    It's why I let my child believe that Santa might be wearing red because it's a Chinese lucky color.

    But if we treat our cultural heritage as something that can't change, if we feel threatened when time and other cultures rub against it, we make our lives smaller.

    An Italian-American friend of mine once told me how her relatives ostracized her when she divorced, because they believed Italians don't get divorced, oblivious to the fact that, back in Italy, divorce was acceptable.

    We cling to a culture that is part of our past, freezing it in our minds, instead of the real flexible culture of our time. This is dangerous, for us as individuals and for our society.

    At its most extreme, it leads to clashes, like the violence inflicted on women who resist arranged marriages, or riots over the removal of Confederate statues.

    So, let's stop thinking of our culture as treasure we need to cling to. Instead, let's think of it as a seed, as something to nurture and cultivate. We should respect and honor it, but we should also let it adapt to its time and surroundings.

    When we do that, we allow for unique creations, like black Storm Troopers in "Star Wars" movies, and fortune cookies, which, by the way, do not exist in China. It's a completely Asian-American invention.

    Because the truth is, time and change will always win. And when we cling to our culture to keep it from change, we are, in fact, strangling it to death.

    We can't live forever, but, if it is nurtured, our culture can.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Author Grace Lin.

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