Bridging the Cultural Divides in America

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Courtesy of UTSA Career Center

Even though I hadn’t lived in America until 7th grade, I have always considered myself an American. Every year, at whatever international school around the globe I was enrolled in, whether the school was in Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, or Beijing, I would proudly wear red, white, and blue and wave my stars and stripes on international day (a day which celebrated diversity with every student dressed to express their heritage), and when asked where I was from I would reply in my posh ‘Hill House pupil’ British accent, “America” (despite the fact that I had no idea that New York City was not the capital of New York State, how many states made up the U.S.A, that Herbert Hoover was not the inventor of the vacuum cleaner, and how to speak ‘American’).

I had always thought that my family was very average, normal, and stereotypically American. I had very little experience in America, and it seemed as though we fit into the melting pot that I thought America was. I thought that we were often wholeheartedly embraced there despite the fact that the Lighte-Grant family is made up of two Chinese daughters adopted into a white, two father family consisting of one atheist English composer, and one Jewish American banker/China scholar. We seemed to be perfectly normal, and as a third grader I was blissfully unaware that mixed-race and two-father families could spark controversy, and truly convinced that everyone had two fathers and no mother. I never felt different or odd in any way.

As I grew older and slowly out of my childish whimsy I began to come to the realization that I was different and that America was not the unapologetic and diverse, accepting place all the text-books said it to be. When I moved to America in seventh grade, challenging the norm was not as exciting or welcomed as I had thought, and the image I had of Tillie, the stereotypical American girl, dissolved. Despite how trivial I thought the culture shock that teachers had explained moving to Beijing entailed, I felt a harsh wave of culture shock moving to America, and was repeatedly struck down by stereotypes. To most people I met it was strange that I initially didn’t preform amazingly well in the American school system (as I was accustomed to the test-free IB system), have always been bad at math, had my bat-mitzvah in Beijing, and that I, as the Asian student who just moved from China spoke “good English”. And I often encountered the saddening idea that expat children were not ‘normal’ and lacked the social skills and mannerisms that American children possessed. I quickly became accustomed to many shocked faces exclaiming, “I didn’t know you grew up abroad! You’re so normal”. And as I had counter-intuitively never faced stereotypes aboard, it was strange to suddenly be challenged by so many. 

Although I was often annoyed by the expectations people had for me, and my high and unrealistic expectations for America, I never hated anyone for saying ignorant and/or offensive things, but simply felt as though they lacked awareness and knowledge of others unlike themselves. I came to the realization that no matter how worldly or uncultured I am or others are, there needs to be more meaningful discussion on similarities and differences between people and cultures. Additionally, there needs to be more sharing of stories and life experiences to give individuals perspective and awareness of not only the great, big world out there and the diversity of it, but also of the future diversification and changing face of America.

-Tillie Lighte