Every morning at home, I woke up to the smell of aki and saltfish, as my mother swayed to the rhythmic melodies of Bob Marley's "Red Wine." There's comfort in her accented “good morning,” and I often say that she brought a piece of Jamaica's sunshine when she moved to America. In August, our family reunions are gatherings of smiling voices thickly speaking patois, a dialect only the trained ear is able to decipher. Laughter is echoed throughout the house when my uncles try teaching my brothers how to “rock ‘n roll” while my aunts pull my hand to “dutty–wine,” a complex Jamaican dance.
By winter, the ringing laughs are replaced with phone calls. My mother greets everyone with, “Gong xi fa cai!” to welcome the Lunar New Year. Oranges are placed in every room and our counter is decorated with red envelopes from distant relatives. The days we spent cleaning the house in preparation are rewarded with a feast of chicken, fish, noodles, and rice. However, in the morning we revert back to our diet of patties and Jamaican dumplings.
I am Chinese–Jamaican, or colloquially know as “Chimaican.” This anomaly is common within the realms of Jamaica, though receives a look of puzzlement in the States. To put it simply, I am ethnically Chinese, though identify myself as culturally Jamaican. But growing up in a Caucasian-dominated community complicated my melting pot of cultures.
My hometown contains a relatively homogenous population and when questioned about their backgrounds, my peers’ answers seemed to flow off their tongues so easily. Then there was me: the only Asian girl in her entire class, though barely knew her own ethnicity. I found that it was easier to reject my roots than to stand out in my classrooms and always having to answer the question, “What are you?” Externally, I’m Chinese. Internally, I’m Jamaican. Mentally, I wished to be Caucasian.
When I entered college, the cliched “everything began to change” happened to me. It was less comparison, and more acceptance of myself. I stood among 10,000 undergraduate students, each holding onto something to differentiate themselves. My cultural background is what kept me from being homogenized, and also interesting. However in the process of falling in love with my heritages, I also began to find passion within other cultures.
Being “Chimaican” anchors me in who I am, but the exploration of cultures keeps me afloat. I have the warmth of Jamaican hospitality, the strong family values from my Chinese roots, and a heart filled with the desire to learn of the world. By having two contrasting backgrounds, it helped me understand how much it can influence humor, growth, values, fears, and hopes. And I would be doing myself an injustice by remaining ignorant of what other cultures have to offer.
To say that I’ve found my identity would be premature, though coming to terms and warmly embracing my background has certainly set a strong foundation.