MSN recently offered a sample quiz of 20 questions from the United States Naturalization test on their website. Any immigrant would be required to pass the complete version, 100 or so questions, in order to gain citizenship. The questions varied on subject matter, but all were patriotic in nature- powers of government, dates of ratification, current political figures. As I feared would be the outcome, I failed. Not miserably, but still a full 5% away from baseball, McDonald's, and my civil rights. Slightly disheartening, I must say.
Contrary to first glance, I am a natural-born American citizen. My mom was born and raised in Iowa, but my dad was born in communist China, where he later fled to freedom when he was a little boy. Genetically, my sister and I ended up inheriting many physical traits from dad- dark hair, dark eyes, and enough of a variation in eye shape to have experienced that irritating playground chant that I won't type here, complete with hand-motions. I was also amused in elementary school by the concept of "Chinese jump ropes", "Chinese cuts", and "Chinese fire drills". I wasn't sure if my classmates actually believed that everyone in China jumps out of their car at stoplights and runs around in circles. I later came to realize that "Chinese" was simply a more interesting way to say "weird". All the playground stuff never bothered me because, afrter all, they made fun of everybody. The only instance of official "racism" didn't come until the 7 th grade when Matt Hubbard called me by a racial slur, and even that didn't really get to me. I knew it was wrong, but I also knew Matt Hubbard was an idiot, so if the teacher hadn't heard it I probably would have pretended I didn't either and spared us both an awkward trip to the Principal's office. The only other time I had ever gone to see the Principal was when someone attempted to flush by backpack down the toilet, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't racially motivated.
I guess thinking about it, Junior High was when I really began to realize that I was indeed half Chinese, and to the untrained eye appeared fully Chinese. It's a strange phenomenon, realizing what you look like to other people. It's similar to the outlook of the little dog. The little dog never seems to realize that he's little. A Pomeranian will go after a Great Dane without thinking twice. It took me a while to realize that people saw me as different then themselves, even though I didn't see myself that way. I remember one day walking up behind a friend who was trying to describe me to another student who didn't know who I was. "You know," she said, "she's the little Oriental girl." I recall thinking to myself, "Who is she talking about?", only moments later realizing it was me. In my mind, "Oriental" was a flavor of Raman noodles, not the first word I would use to describe myself. My eye-opening process continued in the social realm. As you may remember, Junior High centered around the endless pairing of preadolescents in both actual and hypothetical combinations of who should, could, and is "going out". The little dog phenomenon would rear its shaggy head whenever I would have a crush on a white kid but everyone would tease me about hooking up with the Chinese guy. I think I proved my point in eighth grade by going to Promotion dance with a black kid. I was never one for racial barriers, I suppose. And now, of course, I'm married to my wonderful husband Matthew, possibly the whitest man on the planet. I love you, babe.
Growing up half-Chinese did have its perks. Every year, on what was just another random day in February to my friends, I received a red envelope full of money from my dad. And the food. Oh, the food. Dad is an amazing cook who puts P.F. Chang's to shame. More significant are the "Chinese" character traits born and built into who I am: discipline, diligence, frugality, and dogged work ethic. But there are two sides to every coin, the second coming in pressure to perform, expectations, and a culture built on guilt. A friend once asked me if I liked being Chinese. I'd never really given it much thought, and I gave him the only answer I really could. I don't really know if I like being Chinese, because I've never known any different.
Find out if you should be deported at http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/exec/natz/natztest.asp?FormMode=INITIAL