My husband and I moved to China in 2011. Our plane landed in Beijing almost five weeks after our wedding day. Back then we were wide-eyed twenty-something year olds with little cash and lots of adventure. Fast forward some years and we find ourselves parenting three children who were all born in Beijing – our precious souvenirs that will forever remind us of our season in the Middle Kingdom.
Living in China is both a blessing and a challenge. It’s a culturally-rich land that places true value on family and reveres the elderly. China is also an entrepreneur’s paradise. Opportunities to self-improve and generate income abound. And yet, China is a country that does not accept outsiders into the fold. Being born and raised in China and mastering the language isn’t enough. If your face (or race) doesn’t fit, you’ll never be considered Chinese. Regardless of how long you reside in China, you’ll always be referred to as ‘wàiguó rén’ (foreigner).
In China people love to ask foreigners, “Where are you from?” I’ve been asked this question countless times. Although I find this loaded question irritating, I’m conscious that being asked this question as an adult is very different from being asked this question as a child. I’m a grown woman with an unwavering sense of self and a strong sense of identity. On the other hand, my children are in their formative years and still figuring out their place in the world. And so, as my children mature and learn to navigate the “Where are you from?” question for themselves, I wonder about the response they will give.