Maggie: My name is Maggie Hughes, and my ethnic heritage is Chinese. I identify as a Chinese American.
I was adopted at 18 months from China. When I was around five, my mom enrolled my sister and me in a Chinese school in Lexington. I was there for 10 years. We learned the language on Saturdays, Chinese dance, and taichi. I play the pipa, a Chinese instrument. Most of the parents at the school came directly from China, but their children are Asian Americans.
My sister was also adopted from China. When we were younger, my mom would really emphasize talking about our heritage. I'm glad she did it because I know more about who I am than some other people I know. Now that my sister and I are older, she has dialed back a little because we're exploring it on our own.
Eliza: That's really unique. What was your mom doing in China?
Maggie: She just went over for the times that she went to get me and my sister. She went to get me right after 9/11 happened. She got my sister during SARS and the bird flu.
I find knowing about my background helps me connect to my Asian culture more. I can tell internationals that I can play the pipa, which I can't even pronounce right. And they're like, "What?" Because it's a traditional instrument.
Growing up, I didn't think of myself as different. I've always considered myself White. I would look at myself and say to myself, "You look Asian, but you're American and White." I just brushed it off when people would make fun of me for being Asian in high school. I just went, "Oh, yeah, haha."
I would tell myself that I had to be a certain way because of people's expectations of Asians. The most stereotypical examples would be, "Asians are always smart and get great grades." I had pretty decent grades in high school, but I thought I had to do exceptionally well because of people's expectations.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I would eat lunch with people I consider my friends… but they were kind of jerks. They would go, "Ching Chong Chopsticks," and make fun of me all the time. I told a friend who was also a minority, Hispanic, that I did not enjoy it. When he stopped, the others eventually stopped, too. Eventually, I stopped eating with them altogether.
Eliza: You viewed it as a small thing, but it's still affected you?
Coming to Asbury actually has helped because I've gotten to meet internationals, not just people who've grown up in America whose parents are Asian. I got to meet people who lived in China, Korea, etc. and talk to them, and it's helped me realize that we're not just American. I've "known" that, but I didn't really know until Asbury. I knew I was Chinese American, but it didn't click, really.
Eliza: Has that changed over the years- your feelings toward your Asian ethnicity?
Maggie: I've come to love it more recently just by being at Asbury, really, and by being on the Asian Student Alliance (ASA) board. I've come to embrace being Asian more so than American.
I’ve felt connected to my ethnic group probably a lot of times… when I'm with my international friends and we're cooking traditional Asian dishes. I never did that growing up. We didn't cook traditional dishes; we cooked the fake American stuff. But being with them and learning how they make it in the time that it takes to make some of them, especially when they're slow cookers, has made me feel more connected to Asian culture.
But when I'm around some of my friends who speak Chinese or Korean, their native languages, I obviously don't know what they're saying. It's like a border coming up because I love all the internationals, but they have their group that they came with, which I'm glad they have. But there's a disconnect because sometimes I feel like I shouldn't talk to them when they're all together. I still approach them, but it's just very awkward at times. It's a feeling of, "Who can I talk in English to?"
I sometimes wish I was international just to experience growing up in another country because I've never been outside of the U.S. since I was adopted. I have no idea what's going on anywhere, really. But I'm glad I'm an American, too, because a lot of people envy Americans and come here. I'm glad I have that, but I do wish I could experience it.
I've always tried to find Asian Americans 'cause I can relate to them to some degree. We've all been in similar situations. Some have been adopted. And I'm like, "Oh, we have something in common to talk about." I actually want to share my culture.
Eliza: Thank you.
Maggie: Thank you.