Tag Archives: heritage

On Being An International Student During The Lunar New Year

By Hannah Teoh

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

Recently, the Lunar New Year passed and celebrations were happening everywhere. If you aren’t familiar with the holiday, the Lunar New Year is celebrated every year to mark the beginning of the Lunar calendar. It originates from China and is celebrated widely by Asian diasporas all around the world. As an ethnic Chinese person from Malaysia, Lunar New Year has always been an important event to my family. On the eve of Lunar New Year, everyone gathers at the ancestral home to have a big traditional feast, followed by a grand ritual at midnight to commemorate the new year. The festivities typically last for a week. We usually clear our schedules for the week for visiting relatives and for going to temples to pray for the upcoming year. The Lunar New Year was always my favorite time of the year, purely because it is a time of unity, reflection, connection, and remembrance. 

The Lunar New Year has looked very different the past few years. For me, the Lunar New Year lost its usual vibrant vitality and character during the pandemic, as lockdowns and social gathering restrictions discouraged visits to temples and seeing relatives and friends— but with good reason, I must add. Many of my relatives are quite a bit older and were part of the population that was highly vulnerable to the air-borne infection. We also did not have a vaccine roll-out at that time, so it was a more precarious situation to navigate. While I understood why such restrictions were put in place, it also made our Lunar New Year celebrations humbler. Streets were quiet when they normally would have abounded with cars and people on their way to different celebrations. The night sky remained calm when it would have been painted in splatters of fireworks.

Photo by HyggeLab Concept on Unsplash

2020 was the last year I had a Lunar New Year celebration with my family back home in Malaysia. I left for the U.S. the following year in 2021, right before the New Year. I stayed with my sister in Boston and we had a small Lunar New Year’s eve dinner with Korean take-out food. We called our parents and our grandmother to give well wishes, and they in turn gave us virtual red packets (packets of money traditionally given out by elders during Lunar New Year). A grand celebration that usually takes place over the course of a week was relegated to a modest dinner. 

For the first time, I spent the Lunar New Year alone this year. Between finishing schoolwork, attending class, and going to work, I never really prioritized celebrating the holiday. Plans to have a dinner for Lunar New Year were mentioned in passing but never brought up again as people got busy (myself included). The dumplings that I usually make were stored for an extra day because it was time-consuming to make them. I called my parents late, with the 15-hour time difference throwing off my frame of time. My Lunar New Year celebration started and ended with a bowl of glutinous rice sesame balls in Alhambra.

Photo by Olivia Colacicco on Unsplash
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Rediscovering My Mother Tongue

By Natalie Wong

I spend a lot of time with my grandmother, or rather, my mah mah as I like to call her in Cantonese. There’s an unspoken love between me and grandmother —very unspoken, because I literally have trouble communicating with her. In Hong Kong, where I grew up, the two main languages widely spoken are Cantonese and English. My grandmother doesn’t speak English and my spoken Cantonese is mediocre at best. While our relationship endures a generational and cultural gap, a wider gap is left by our inability to truly communicate, leaving me wondering about my own identity and what I’m missing out on. 

Photo from Wikipedia

Language attrition is the process of losing a first or once spoken language. I found myself experiencing varying degrees of language attrition while attending an English-only international school, despite living in Hong Kong. The importance of learning English has always been emphasized to me and threatened my Cantonese ability in my childhood. I see some of my Asian-American friends understandably losing a lot of their ability to speak and write in their mother tongues after being born and raised in predominantly English-speaking America. My case is strangely not as excusable, as Hong Kong speaks Cantonese and I’ve chosen to exist in an English-speaking bubble inside it. While I understand the majority of conversational Cantonese when it’s spoken to me, it is a shame that I have somehow lost a lot of my language speaking skills. There’s a Cantonese saying in international student communities—“sik tang, ng sik gong”, which translates to “can listen, but can’t speak”, and it is the clockwork response non-natives, or in my case, kids who are bad at Cantonese, say to fluent speakers. I find myself in a position where I am unable to freely express myself in my mother tongue despite identifying with my Hong Kong culture. 

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Kakehashi Project: Being an Asian American in Japan

By Erika Gomi

Last Spring break I was lucky enough to get the amazing opportunity to go on a week long trip to Japan. Through the Kakehashi Project, Asian Americans can go to Japan and experience Japanese culture, history, and traditions and promote US-Japan relations. This was done through sightseeing, lectures, and homestays.

We first arrived in Tokyo where we jumped right in and started learning about Japan and its foreign relations. We had to sit through some lectures, but after we were taken to the Overseas Migration Museum where we learned about the meaning of the term “nikkei”. I was surprised to find that the term was so inclusive, defining a state of mind and not a label defining ancestry. We were encouraged to all recognize our common roots and appreciate where we’re from. Then in the evenings we got to explore the city with the other participants in the group. We got closer and bonded over our common Asian ancestry and our feeling of dissonance with being American in Japan. We felt so foreign, barely any of us in the group spoke Japanese, and yet we looked the part. Exploring the city, we figured out how to use the subway and observed the similarities and differences between Japanese and Americans.

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