That’s Australian Born Chinese for those that aren’t familiar with the initialism. Although I have seen Americans use it for themselves with the A standing for American, the basic principle is the same. I was born and raised here in Australia and it’s a phrase that I and many of my friends are familiar with. I’ve been called it by several people who come from China and try to figure out if I’m like them when they ask me when I came to Australia and commend me on my great English. I’m not really that kind of “fresh off the boat” Chinese. Got my birth certificate to prove it, I swear.
So I did some volunteering at a community centre where I helped out in a classroom for a course that teaches ESL (English as a Second Language.) In essence, I was similar to a teaching assistant and I spent a lot of one-on-one time guiding certain students through the worksheets and activities they do during the class. At the beginning before all this, I had initially inquired about a position they had at the centre for an administration worker for the front desk to handle calls and other tasks. The lady who briefly interviewed me, seemed just about ready to have me on board until I filled out some forms where I wrote down Mandarin Chinese under Languages Spoken. This led to her asking me about it and saying that they needed a helper in an ESL class because there was an elderly couple who knew absolutely no English and they desperately wanted a translator present. Of course I said sure, I’ll be happy to help! And that’s how I got delegated to a classroom instead of the front desk.
That’s not to say I was disappointed that I was redirected to another place in the community centre. My goal was to be a helper and contribute in one way or another. I met such friendly and warm people and I felt like I gained so much from the entire experience – I gotta say, this is starting to feel like a job interview answer.
I just always wonder if strangers see me as a Chinese-born Australian or a Chinese person. Personally, I feel like I can usually tell the difference based on clothing, hair, makeup, and mannerisms, but maybe I judge people wrongly myself. And maybe I just shouldn’t judge people full stop. In my defence, it’s a matter of being strongly protective of who I am; I’m Australian. I didn’t come from China. I speak English more fluently than lots of other people born here. I don’t have the slightest trace of a Chinese accent because I’ve never lived there. But my parents are from China. And so’s the rest of my family. I have yellow skin and a pretty flat nose. I speak Mandarin at home and grew up eating seaweed soup and congee and black chicken. So what am I?
I guess I’m both. And I’m perfectly happy with that.
I feel like I’m trying way too hard to be thoughtful in this post which is ridiculous because I have nothing important to say, really. I just feel conflicted about my identity from time to time because I’m unhappy with how low my level of Mandarin is and how I don’t know how to cook Chinese dishes. I love visiting my extended family in China and everything but communication is always a struggle and their lifestyles are so different in comparison. When I eventually have kids, I just don’t know how to pass on the culture to them. There’s no way I’d want them to grow up without any knowledge whatsoever of Chinese traditions and cuisine but would I be able to teach them those sorts of things myself? I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in any country but Australia so they’ll clearly be surrounded by Australian values and culture from the get-go. It’s a bit of a worry for me and I hope I’ll figure things out by then.