Monday, January 15, 2007

What does your culture and heritage and identity mean to you as a citizen living in New York?

This amazing essay won second prize in the Celebrate Diversity! Essay Contest. Congratulations and thank you, Elizabeth Holmes, for sharing your story.

Culture, Identity, and Heritage are three main themes that have consumed me for at least twelve of my fourteen years. Exploring and developing these themes is an emotional and challenging adventure that is an important part of my life. I have always been an introspective and reflective person. As an overseas Chinese who was adopted by an American family when I was three months old, I felt from the beginning of my life that I had a lot to think about.

My name is Elizabeth Li-Anna Qiuju Gaeta Holmes. That's a long name for a three month old infant. From the very beginning, my American parents were very sensitive to include in my name all my cultural heritages. My first name, Elizabeth, is the name of my Scott-English paternal grandmother and god­mother. Li-Anna is my middle name. Li, which means Beautiful in Chinese, is the adjective modifying both the word An (which means peace in Chinese) as well as Anna, the Italian name of my mother's sister and great aunt. Qiuju, (which means Chrysanthemum in English) is the name given to me by my birthmother. Gaeta is my adoptive mother's surname and Holmes is my adoptive father's surname.

When I was two and a half years old, I looked at my Mom's eyes, which are brown, and then my eyes which are black. I was very upset. I told my Mom I didn't like looking different than she did. 'When am I gonna get brown eyes? I don't wanna be Chinese!" My mother pointed out that my Dad has blue eyes and my brother has green eyes. Even though we all look different, we are one family. This was just the beginning of my noticing racial differences and wondering who I was.

When I was three years old, my family and I joined the Grace Christian Church, a church that is multi-cultural, but predominantly oversees Chinese. There I met Asian adult role-models and made several Asian and Caucasian friends. Being at this church, I experienced certain aspects of the Chinese culture, such as language, food, and traditions. However, I feel similar to these oversees Chinese, but, in other ways I feel extremely different. After all, I am different. I am not only Chinese but I am also an adoptee and I live in an Italian-Scott-English American family.

My family and I are members of an organization called FCC (Families with Children from China). Every year we attend Chinese Culture Day, an event sponsored by FCC. Here I get to meet other adoptees from China, who live in American households. We celebrate and learn about Chinese culture and at the same time I get to share concerns, feelings, and issues related to adoption.

When I was nine years old, my family and I returned to China with a tour group consisting of thirty other Chinese-adopted children and their families, While I was in China, I experienced the beauty of the country. I also visited the homes of native Chinese families and schools. I saw and realized how fortunate and blessed I was to be living in America, "the Land of the Free."

Before this trip, I took American freedom for granted and did not truly appreciate what it meant. As a nine year old girl, I was allowed to travel from New York City, to China. However, I was almost prevented from being reunited with my Chinese foster mother, Cheng. Cheng she was not allowed to travel from one city to another without permission from her employer.

For some reason, or perhaps for no reason, the employer refused to give permission. It did not even matter that Cheng was willing to travel to visit me, even on her day off. It took a month and a lot of persuasion from my parents, the tour director and her advisor to get the employer to change her mind.

Luckily for me I live in the capitol city of diversity, New York. I love being a New Yorker. I love going to Broadway shows, museums, parks, concerts, and just walking around, When in New York I feel I can walk around freely, dress as myself, and be accepted as me, I express my identity and develop my sense of self through many personal avenues, I enjoy music, (cello and piano), sports, (soccer, gymnastics, swimming, and skiing), participating in charitable events, and community service. I also explore my interests with clubs at school (in middle school, I participated in GLOBE, which is a program of science and I was on a Math Team,) I've performed at Carnegie Hall in a Borough-Wide orchestra, I play the cello in my school orchestra and I am part of an advanced orchestra,

There is still so much to explore and think about regarding my culture, heritage. and my Identity, The culture and diversity of New York City fosters and encourages this kind of exploration. Everyday I find out just a little bit more about myself. I expect this journey of exploration will take a lifetime

Elizabeth Holmes, Age 14

Petrides School

October, 2006

Photo by MYKAUL


Kathy Vaughan said...

This is a very thoughtful essay and one I can relate to.

I am reminded of my confirmation where my vision of what I needed as a young person and my identiy were challenged.
I wanted my grandfather as my sponsor, which he always was in life, but he was not of the right faith. My application was denied despite his years of raising his children Catholic.

When choosing my confirmation name, I wanted a name that reflected who I was, a third culture kid (TCK), but also tied me closer to my family. I chose Mariko. I was persistent in my argument that it qualified as a confirmation name because it was "Little Mary" in Japanese. My choice was not popular with the administration nor with my sponsor. However, it was popular with me.

Although I am not Japanese and nor am I a fluent speaker, my parents and I have always respected our knowledge of the Japanese culture and used the lanuage amongst ourselves. In fact, speaking Japanese is one of my fondest memories of my late father.

Mariko does reflect very much who I am and how I see myself, much more than any other name could. More importantly, it was empowering for me to identify myself and not let others do that for me.

Unfortunately, I have not always found our municipal agencies as understanding. In fact, I have been penalized for asserting the values that go with my TCK background, especially empathy and respect humanity. What does it say when an immigrant youth threatens to harm themselves and the public agencies do not have the linguistic resources to interface with the family? Instead, they get assisance from a TCK who connects with a native speaker to provide translation. During this crisis triage, a ticket is issued to the TCK. When challenged, the judge tells the TCK the situation was not an emergency; That despite the TCK being the lynchpin in this triage and a child was threatening to harmselves, should have said, "Excuse me, I need to hang up the phone because I need to put money in the meter. I'll call you back in 10 minutes."

Staten Island is the fastest growing borough in New York city and county in New York State. Unfortunately, our agencies and services are not on pace both in terms of awareness and competency.

jennifer said...

we have been reading your post and noticed you question. We just introduced Kincafe- This is for families to come together. Children can get updates about families. I would like you for review of the service and provide feedback to

Thank you

Anonymous said...

The essay is thoughtful, indeed we should cherish the freedom in America. You seem a very talented person, I see you are interested in music and shows. There is one Chinese cultural show called Chinese New Year Splendor which brings to life the China's glorious history. The show depicts high moral values and really a must see show. Please see, it is at the Radio City Music Hall from Jan 30 - Feb 9. I am sure you will appreciate the show.