When I first came to the United States, in a social event, someone asked me:
“What’s your name?”
“Helen,” I answered.
She looked at me ambiguously…. Her eyes were clearly telling me: “you don’t look like Helen.” Obviously, I am not a blond, I don’t have blue eyes, and I probably spoke English with an accent. Then she asked again:
“What’s your real name?”
A flashback quickly went through my mind: I came to this country in 1989 as a student. When crossing the border at Lo Wu Bridge between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, I looked back one last time at the country where I had breathed every single breath of my life, and then looked forward with anticipation to a country that was then not much more than a distant dream.
At the San Francisco US immigration office, I eagerly put down my name “Helen Wang” on the social security card, as if by picking a typical English first name, I would be automatically accepted in this country.
The rest of the story is similar to other Chinese students and immigrants. I struggled, I suffered, I fell, and I picked up myself and tried again. I went out of my way to push my limits. I wanted to fit in this country, I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to think like an American, talk like an American, and act like an American, and I want to be an American!
Then something in me began to awaken: a soul as old as centuries, a culture as rich as civilization, and the wisdom that surpasses all the sciences – those are within me, and within me forever. Then, only then, I started to appreciate my own culture and tradition. I still think like Chinese, talk like Chinese, and act like Chinese, and I want to tell the world I am a Chinese!
When I got married to an American with English and German heritage, I debated fiercely myself whether I should change my last name to “Clarke.” As much as I like the unity of the family the last name represents, I do not want people look at the name “Helen Clarke” and expect a blond with blue eyes.
With my straight black hair and dark brown eyes, I am a Chinese by ethnic background, and an American by citizenship. Sometime, I do not identify myself as either, because I have transcended and evolved to a third identity that we all know called “mankind.” Whether we are Chinese, Indian, Russian, Mexican, Italian, or Kenyan, we are all in one. We are all mankind.
Call me my real name “Mankind.”