It’s a freeing feeling to realize no one has to understand you when you’ve taken away their power to define you.
I think people have been trying to define me since I was born. I’m Chinese, my relatives say. But I was born in Clearwater, Florida (home of the scientologists’ HQ, apparently), so that actually makes me an American. I have a driver’s license from California (watch out now) and a passport from the United States of America. No such paperwork from China, however, but there is a yellow tint to my skin and an almond shape to my eyes (or so American literature has told me).
I’m Chinese, so I need to be fiercely loyal to my family. Even when they abuse me emotionally, verbally, and physically. Hm. Is that something I really want defining me? And what’s this about being a terrible driver? Apparently I missed that memo when they passed it around the office. And I’m supposed to be either “dragon lady” or property? Well, neither of those sound particularly appealing either.
But I’m American, so I need to be individualistic. I need to move out when I’m 18 (which I did, but that was a complicated situation), and I need to “take the path less traveled by” (which is a horrible misconstruction of a beautiful and bittersweet poem). I’ve got to do everything it takes to get to the top and get my white picket fence and family unit with a husband and 2.5 children (when exactly can I get the other half of that third child?).
Then I got older and found out there’s this thing called “Asian-American” (growing up I just thought that meant Asian living in America) – an emerging culture – making me both and neither at the same time. Now this one is messy. There is no structure, no script to follow; no identifiable footprints, maps, or blueprints. I just got thrown in the pool, and I’ve got to learn how to swim, or I drown. It’s tense, and scary – the kind of scary that can only be felt when you’re suspended 50 feet in the air walking a tight rope made out of fishing line. (Did I mention there’s no safety net?)
Can anyone see why I craved a definition for myself?
I took on many, accepted ones people have given me without prejudice. My cousin was more than happy to oblige while we were growing up: fat, ugly, stupid, useless; and then when I chose my dignity and life over family pride and appearance: selfish, ungrateful, etc., etc., etc. Sadly, I believed a lot of those. Then came the teen years with the church ladies: “lose a few pounds,” “if only you didn’t have acne, you’d be pretty,” and while this one was not ever verbalized, it was was most definitely felt: “you’re a failure for not being able to fix your mother.”
I’m not particularly sure why the negative ones were the ones that stuck.
Then in came this Man, and He called me daughter. He called me beautiful. He called me beloved. He called me His.
How did I respond to Him?
I laced up my red converse and ran like mad.
How could any of that be true when I believed the exact opposite for decades?
But yet they are. And only He has ever asked me to uproot everything I ever believed about myself and gives me the strength to do so. Often.
So somehow I got to a crossroad where I could choose to believe one thing and go one way, or the other and go another.
Everything the world defined me with stemmed from expectations of me to perform a certain way. And I’m sick of being a one-woman circus act.
I’m building an altar at this intersection. I’m taking all of the lies that told me I need to be a quiet, submissive, cute, little Asian woman and throwing it on there. I’m taking the lies that told me I’m ugly, fat, less than, and a failure, and slamming it on as well. I’m taking the lies that told me I have to perform an act to look like I have it all together in order to earn God’s love and my salvation, and it’s going on, too. The world will define me no longer. I am lighting this sucker up and leaving the ashes as a reminder of the decision I made and the path I chose.
And unlike Mr. Frost, I will not be dwelling on the what ifs of the other path.
On the other side of the coin, everything God defined me to be just required me to be me.
My identity is given to me by the Creator of the universe and shaped and defined by how much I believe in the freedom of being His.
Keep hurling lies at me if you want, world – it’ll just keep this fire burning. And it’ll remind me that much more how much I define myself.
Watch out, world, here’s your warning.
Miki is discovering who she is.
Can’t stop me now.
featured in WitnessLA January 2013