Overcoming the frustration of bilinguilism

I have struggled with my dual heritage for my entire life. Being an American Born of Chinese descent, an ABC, is not as simple as the abbreviation seems. As a very young child, I was taught English and Chinese simultaneously, which confused me. I remember when I was four, having just returned from a half year’s stay in Taiwan, where I had attended school and immersed myself in the Mandarin language, I had all but shed the English language.

When I returned, I spoke haltingly, in a language I now call “Chinglish,” a bit of Chinese and a few parts of Mandarin. I communicated with the anxiety of someone lost on the street. Preschool was rough: I was brimming with stories to be told, in all the languages I contained, but they were silenced the day I climbed to the top of the playground and triumphantly yelled out, “Wo zhe She-Ra!” Yet somehow, no one wanted to play. I immediately resolved to set aside my other tongue, intending on picking it up again when it was convenient, when I had friends.

Years passed, and my English progressed, but I remained silent. When I spoke in class, it was with the feeling of impending doom, knowing that if I ever faltered, I would be reminded at recess, at the water fountain, and during day care. So I spoke rarely, frustrated that everything fascinated me, but my vocal descriptions lacked the substance that my written poems did. I made do with naming random objects that gave me the same impression.

But no one should ever settle for imprecision. Words carry an almost holy weight that I have lugged around in an attempt to hide my unspoken thoughts, only trying to expose my feelings through writing. And after mastering the English language, I helped others communicate their ideas effectively in my high school’s Writing Center. The process of revision is something I have never feared. Tutoring my peers, refining their essays, correcting their grammar and sharing their ideas only strengthened my writing and belief in the power of words.

I plan on harnessing this force to become a writer. I speak up in class now and chase my goals directly. Much of this change is attributable to my visit to Taiwan this summer, where I recovered my Chinese heritage, which I had deemed forever lost. I fell in love with the embroidery of the language, the silk of my culture. I participated in the speech contest. My friends and I spent numerous hours exploring every nook of Taipei, whether “cutting prices” with market vendors, or visiting museums. I delved ever deeper into the ancestral pool, and the waters welcomed me.

I can only say that the wounds are healing. I am sewing my fragmented soul together again, and I could never leave one half for another. It would only tear me apart. I have rediscovered a passion for Chinese that encompasses all aspects of the culture and I am proud to have served as a translator for my Chinese Painting and Calligraphy class. My mother always said that someday I would thank her for prodding me to go to Chinese School. I always knew that I would major in English, but never could have imagined that I would choose to major in Chinese. Now is a better time than any to take the words that have been rolling around in my head, in all my harmonious languages, push them out of my mouth, and into the light.

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