Words By Mae

content creator / mental health advocate / friend

My Race Is Not My Culture

My Race Is Not My Culture
Source: Families with Children From China – Greater NY Facebook page

I was adopted from China at a very young age.

At just over one year old, I never spoke or understood Chinese; I don’t remember China; I don’t know my biological parents. I returned to China once — about a decade ago — and honestly, I don’t feel the need to visit again.

I grew up in the greater Dallas area between two Caucasian brothers with my Caucasian parents. Naturally — or maybe unnaturally (I’m not quite sure) — most of my friends growing up were Caucasian. And I went to a predominantly Caucasian university (Sic’Em), where I joined a largely Caucasian sorority. Post-college, I got hooked on climbing, which historically is a mostly Caucasian sport.

Are you noticing a pattern, too?

I didn’t acknowledge my race and heritage for a very, very long time.

Though my parents enrolled me in Chinese class in elementary, I refused to cooperate and only lasted a few months. I didn’t want to be a weird Asian girl that spoke a foreign language and ate foreign foods, I just wanted to be normal. I just wanted to fit in. And to me, at the time, fitting in meant to embrace the white suburban culture I was adopted into.

During the height of the COVID-19 shutdown, I spent most of the month of May holed up in my apartment. Though I had never celebrated or acknowledged it before, I decided to honor the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month for the first time ever.

I called my Chinese sisters — honorary sisters who are also adopted from China — and I researched. I learned why the AAPI community is honored in May of all months. I learned about Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese American author, activist, and feminist. I followed AAPI social media accounts. I meditated on and journaled about my adoption journey.

And for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel so ashamed and alienated from my heritage and ethnicity. For the first time in my life, I felt proud and in awe of my biological brothers and sisters, of my history, of where I came from.

My race is not my culture.

I am Chinese.

I have long, dark brown hair. I have almond-shaped eyes. I have tan skin.

I am also American.

I have a white family. I love football. Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays.

My race is not my culture.

I look and biologically am Chinese, but also simultaneously celebrate and embrace my white family and common white upbringing.

Perhaps the beauty of my adoption story is I don’t especially identify with either Chinese or American culture. If anything, I’ve almost created and even adopted my own: a culture built on kindness, understanding, and inclusivity; a culture that transcends race, language, and background; a culture where joy is infectious and struggles are embraced; a culture where no one is excluded or alone in their fight; a culture where you can come as you are.

My race is not my culture, and I love that about me.

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