I Am Not What I Say I Am: A Second Generation Chinese American Experience

By David Ka Wai Pan

I am a Chinese American. Obviously.

But I am not what I say I am. I am not a Chinese American living a luxurious lifestyle—i.e: a two-story house with my own room, and a car (why not)–because my parents were model minorities and lived happily ever after with me.


I am myself a model minority, an example for not just my parents but also future generations within my bloodline. I am a second generation Chinese-American who is a first generation college student.

But again, I am not what I say I am. As much as I am a model minority (I am expecting hand clapping), I face many inter-generational conflicts with my mother, a clash featuring cultural and linguistic barriers.

My mother, two weeks ago, asked me to go eat dinner with my grandmother. In the Chinese (American) culture, as I have experienced, family time is a big deal—especially dinnertime.

But two weeks ago was finals week. I had to prioritize my tasks, exclusively focusing on finals because, as my mother would say, education comes first.

So I respectfully said no, saying I need to “Hao Si” (study) in Taishanese. My mother, alarmed by my response, refused to take no for an answer, repeating her question.

“Are you eating dinner with grandma,” she repeatedly asked. (That was a rough translation.)

This time, I wanted to explain why I could not eat with my grandmother. I had back-to-back exams, as well as an essay due the following day after exams. (I told you, I am a model minority.)

But as I opened my mouth, no words came out. No words within my limited Taishanese word bank — other than “Hao Si”—surfaced.

So I repeated myself the same way my mother repeated her question. I said “Hao Si” again.

Daniel, an 8Asians contributor who wrote an article distinguishing Asian Americans from “Third Culture Kids” (TCK), understands this facet of the Asian American experience:

Asian Americans struggle between two cultures, that of home and family, and with the new society around them. This is particularly acute with second generation Asians, whose parents may still be traditional, but who are growing up with a different reality. This is a larger issue with them than other immigrants because the cultural difference is often actually very large, and often come at odds with each other.

What do your observations, Daniel, mean in relation to my personal experience?

You are correct, sir!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Ka Wai Pan is your typical Asian American writer, wondering what APA topics interests his readers and then writing about it. Enough said.

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