I suppose the biggest things that have served to define me are—as cliché as they may sound—my city and my family. I am a New Yorker in every sense of the word. I was born two blocks from where I grew up and had never lived anywhere but Manhattan until I came to Hong Kong to study in January for the semester. Like most New Yorkers, I hold the warped belief that the city (this excludes Staten Island, if I’m going to be a true snob) is a separate entity from the rest of the United States; I am a New Yorker first and an American second. I feel that this is important for me to mention because a lot of what I consider to be my political and ideological identity was shaped by the more liberal values of New York City, and contrasts with the more conservative nature of the rest of the country.
Other cities I have been to, such as Los Angeles, Athens, Paris, London, Seoul, Vienna, and especially Hong Kong, all have their charm. But when it comes down to it, none of them match the beauty and complexity of New York. I have a relationship with the city much like I would with a significant other; it aggravates me constantly and never ceases to stun me with its melodrama and numerous flaws. But after each fight, we make up and everything is right again. I feel a love for the city that makes it more than just a city to me.
My family has also played an important role in helping to establish my identity. My father grew up in a stereotypical Long Island suburb to two Irish Roman Catholics. To me, my father’s side of the family pretty much represents what it means to be “all-American” to outsiders: they are staunchly middle-class (both my grandfather and my father’s youngest brother were firefighters), embrace religion, drink a lot, eat a lot, laugh a lot, and love sports. They drive big cars and buy big TVs. They are literally pretty big people. Their kids are quarterbacks on their high school football teams and some of them have joined the military or the navy. Many of them are blonde or red-haired and very fair, and their kids will most likely continue to look that way, although my father was an exception. This is because my mother is from Hong Kong; she moved to the U.S. to get a master’s degree in Chemistry after attending Hong Kong University. She met my father in dental school and married him soon after graduation.
I relate a lot to my mother’s side of the family because I spent most of my childhood at my aunt’s house in Queens on weekends. Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays were spent playing with my cousins, going to Chinese school, attending piano and Tae Kwon Do lessons, receiving tutoring, and being subject to marathon, coma-inducing Dim Sum breakfasts with my relatives. I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which meant being Asian made me a relative minority. Being bi-racial has, to this day, caused me discomfort in a lot of situations. Anyone who is will say that. I watched a documentary about President Obama and a good majority of it dealt with his insecurities that he wasn’t “black enough” or “white enough” to satisfy his family or his constituents. I’ve often felt similarly, that my tendencies weren’t “white enough” for my friends on the Upper West Side, and that I wasn’t “Chinese enough” to suit my family.
It didn’t help that I didn’t relate to other kids that well because I spent whole weekends kept away from my friends, and, when I got older, the lack of Judaism in my life meant that I didn’t get to have my own pivotal coming-of-age ceremony, the bat mitzvah. As a whole, I felt pretty removed from people of my own generation until high school. Until that point, I had a very low opinion of my classmates’ intelligence and didn’t have much in common with them. For high school, I went to a specialized science high school, which is a nice way of saying that pretty much everyone who attended was a nerd, closeted or not. In high school I learned a great deal about myself and that there are tons of people in the world who are much more intelligent than I am in multitudes of ways.
I went from a performing arts middle school to a high school that shoved math, physics, and computer science down my throat. I couldn’t remember organic chemistry, but I had no trouble reciting passages from Nabokov’s Pale Fire. My math skills were never developed enough to place me in pre-calculus courses, but I took advanced English courses. I wrote for the school newspaper and went into college thinking I’d become a journalist. By the end of my freshman year the dream was dispelled to make way for a more specific goal: to work in publishing as an editor or in television as a producer. This goal changed because I think that no matter what happens in society, the people who get to control the messages sent out by the media are the ones who have the power. Media is supposed to be a check on government, but it is also a tool to inform the masses—or manipulate them. Therefore, it’s so important to have the right people to decide the kinds of messages that are sent out to the public and how they’re sent out. To me, this was a basic message that resonated throughout this course this semester. I always grew up thinking I wanted to do “something that matters.” This kind of job seems to fit those criteria.