Third Prize 2008 Short Story Contest
A Cultural Chasm by Kenneth, China/America, Age 17
To Lee, culture entailed addition, not subtraction.
Yet, he could never seem to maximize his equation --
the world would forbid it. Living in America, he
inadvertently formed a cultural chasm with his Chinese
relatives. However, the same would happen no matter
where he lived.
His Chinese grandmother would call -- her broken
English wishing him well and urging him to succeed.
When Lee passed the phone to his mother, he could
faintly hear that broken English morphing into a
stream of fluid Mandarin, expressing untold,
unnumbered ideas and beautiful, complex emotions. He
just couldn¹t understand.
This fact was clarified many years ago, when he had
visited his grandmother with his Pennsylvanian father
and Chinese mother. Looking back, Lee realized that
every facet of him, from his clothes to his lack of a
skill with a bike, screamed "tourist." Visiting the
Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, he had not
understood their true significance only their
beauty. Of all the words he had learned, one stood out
in his mind. It meant "American person." He had heard
Yet, in the United States, many people did the same
thing. Most quickly labeled him as "Asian." and some
even told him that it was in his face. It was in his
birth -- something he could never change. No matter
which country he chose, Lee could never completely
identify with it.
Many of his friends knew Lee's pain. They held the
same problem. Thus, they increasingly leaned on each
other for guidance widening the chasm, leaving a
beautiful and stunning culture on the far ledge. Lee
could stand on one side or the other, but not both.
This was a rule forged by geography, by style, by
language, and by time. Choosing a side was like
choosing between the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall,
like choosing between forks and chopsticks, like
choosing between everything. No one pressured him to
decide; rather, he pressured himself.
As Lee passed through high school, meeting new friends
and growing into a man, a small, nagging part of him
knew that his Chinese family would not realize how he
Taking standardized tests, one section always stood
out: a block in the introduction asking him to
identify his race. There was a circle for "Asian" and
a circle for "Caucasian." Lee could mark neither: he
quietly shaded the circle for "Other."
Kenneth on Life Between Cultures: Balancing two cultures is extremely difficult because, at each step, you must avoid excluding one. Both sides of the family are so different, and you are caught in-between. How do you become immersed in one culture without alienating the other? How can you turn your head to see the Statue of Liberty without losing sight of something else? Everyone has some sort of beautiful heritage to explore, but not everyone explores it. To many, this heritage can seem distant or even invisible without careful searching. To some, it is forcibly thrust in their faces, and the imbalance thus shifts the other way. Living between worlds would not be as hard if they were not so different but they are. Sharing international heritage is a high-wire act scary and difficult, yet exciting and amazing. At each turn, hidden cultural nuances open your mind to new ways of doing things, to diversity and exotic technique. A rich ethnic background promotes critical thinking, personality development, and certainly gives you an infinite repertoire of conversation topics. Yet, the best thing about sharing a bond that transcends political borders is the realization that we are all humans, regardless of distance or region. We really are in the same boat so let’s unify to row it forward.