ABCs: American-Born Chinese

by Zhang
Living in the United States has been educational for me in many ways. Iím especially interested in the ways that people from my country, China, have settled here. I have found one thing that is very interesting here. That is that lots of Chinese people who were born in the USA can't speak Chinese at all. They have a Chinese face; however, when you talk to them in Chinese they don't understand you. Before I met my husband, I thought this was a joke. After I met him, I started to accept this truth. Since I moved to the San Francisco, I've started to understand why this has happened to lots of Chinese families.

My husband's parents immigrated to the USA 60 years ago. China was a backward country, and people looked down upon any immigrants who couldn't speak English. So his parents forced all their children to speak English at home. After a while, all the kids spoke English, not only at school, but also in the home. Day by day, month by month, year by year, they forgot their mother language. How sad! Language is such an important part of your culture that when you lose your language, people can say that you have lost your culture.

Now these days, parents realized that kids can be bilingual, and it will be very good for them. They will keep their traditional culture, they will be able to communicate well with their parents and grandparents, and also, they will be more competitive in their future careers. However, there aren't too many schools that have bilingual classes. Some private schools offer bilingual classes, but the tuition is too high for most families. Lately, you can see more American-born Chinese kids speaking Chinese than before, but most of them still can't read and write Chinese.

I have learned a lesson from my husbandís immigrant experience. Iíve decided to teach my daughter how to speak, read and write Mandarin and Shanghainese by myself. When she's bigger, I want her to be able to speak my native language even though she was born in the U.S. I want her to be able to communicate with my parents and know the cultures of China. When she grows up, she will not just look Chinese, but she will also know where her roots are.