KERA's This I Believe: Assimilation
By Jin-Ya Huang
Dallas, TX –
February 9, 1983. We were lost between airport terminals in Los Angeles on our way from Taipei, Taiwan to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where my father's younger brother and his wife reside. My father was the only one in our family who spoke English. When he stopped to ask a man for directions, the man demanded payment. My father produced an American twenty-dollar bill. Then we were shown the way 20 feet around the corner from where we were standing. I thought to myself, America is going to be hard.
It was. I was almost 13 years old before I had barely learned my ABC's. I struggled in history and science, and was only fair in math. I finally found my place in art. In art I could complete a sentence. I mastered not only the numbers but also the word problems. And in art I excelled in competitions.
This is when I learned what I believe now: "If you keep doing what you love, the rest will come." I wished I had done that immediately. My parents never put stock into an artistic career; being traditional Chinese, they often thought success meant being a doctor or a lawyer. Being an artist meant being poor. So I was a dutiful daughter and a miserable international business major for awhile. My parents finally realized I was no longer simply Chinese. I had made their feared transformation to Chinese-American, and that meant a destiny different for me than for them.
It was a defining moment when I could choose the next step. Whatever my artistic path, I wanted to hang on to my cultural roots. My parents wanted us to assimilate, but what I have maintained from my eastern past has benefited my western upbringing. I see both sides of the coin a perspective not all are afforded.
After graduating with an Art & Humanities degree, I studied photography and graphic design. I found a day job as an art director for a high-end retail-advertising firm. By night, I found galleries willing to share my art with the world. It deals with my diaspora as a Chinese-American woman. Everywhere I traveled, I took my father's old Minolta - the first camera he bought in the States. Out came images of me growing up in America, combined with memories of Taiwan both bittersweet in the awakening of what crossing a large body of water does to one's vision. People have come up to me at openings, sharing what they see in my work. It's amazing how nothing gets lost in the translation of art. I've started a dialogue with the viewer simply by contributing a tale of an immigrant. That's when I feel most proud of where I'm from, who I am now, and what I'll affect in the future.
So now I believe this: It's beautiful to have black hair and brown "un-round" eyes. It's sexy to speak two or more languages. It's wonderful to have worldviews. And last but not least, if you keep doing what you love, the rest will come.
Photographer and art director Jin-Ya Huang. You can submit an essay for broadcast or for posting online at the This I Believe page of kera.org.
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