The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Evan Yang '23 RGLP Reflection: My Cultural Socialization Journey

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My culture has been socialized since a very young age. I come from a Chinese immigrant family, and they raised me under Chinese cultural norms. Many of the norms I am familiar with may sound absurd to a white American family. For example, I was never grounded; my parents would instead hit me with household objects. When I would visit China, the physical space also contributed to my culture. Meals were always held together at the dining table, and no one would start eating until everyone was seated. I always looked forward to chatting with my family over the dinner table. My Chinese upbringing heavily influences my culture. 

However, I have also moved around quite a bit. I’ve lived in Ohio and California, two extremely different cultural spaces. In Ohio, I was immersed in American culture. I had to adapt myself to the different frameworks of meaning. It was a difficult process. When my friends were out playing on their sports teams, I was at home studying. People gave me looks when they saw what my parents packed me for lunch. I felt alienated from others to the degree that I felt embarrassed of my Chinese culture at times. The space around me made me yearn to integrate American culture. Over time, I slowly picked up on American cultural norms. Once I was able to perform the behaviors successfully, I developed feelings of authenticity for American culture and called it my own. Yet in spaces where Chinese culture predominated, like at home and at my Chinese church, I felt more authentic performing Chinese cultural behaviors. I lived almost a double life at home versus outside of home. At this point, I had two different cultural identities that were completely separate from each other. 

I was not until I moved to California that I fully integrated the two cultures. The flourishing Asian-American community there helped me embrace the duality of my identity. I could walk into class and start speaking Mandarin to a friend. I could share dumplings at lunch. Most of all, I could relate to the feelings of alienation and discomfort many Asians felt living in America. Yet, I met people that were nevertheless proud of their Asian culture. I think the space also contributed; California is simply more diverse and accepting of other cultures. The empathy of others who were proud of their cultures gave me a newfound appreciation of my own culture and allowed me to integrate Chinese culture with American culture in all aspects of my life.

Written by Evan Yang, a member of the Winter 2021 Cohort of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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