How Do You Identify Yourself?

thefemin-sun-jun-18This is a thought that’s been on my mind, ever since I’ve been curious to discover more about my cultural roots. I’ve wanted to take a DNA test, but have been hesitant to do so. My family background originates from China, with my grandparents originating from Shanghai, Hunan and Xiamen. My parents and one grandparent were born in Taiwan. However, it’s interesting how there is always this desire to identify oneself. We are all so unique as individuals. These ideas of identity are a social construction, yet they often help us feel a sense of belonging in a group. Even if I took a DNA test, and had a surprising percentage of an ethnicity, I’d still identify myself as a Taiwanese Kiwi.

Taiwan and New Zealand are where my family are. Taiwan is where I’ve visited once or twice a year since I was four years old. New Zealand is where I was born and raised, and so both places have a special place in my heart, and are where I call home. Growing up, I didn’t have any close Asian friends, and most of my friends were White/Eurasian. It’s interesting, because even till today I notice that I relate better with Asians that have also grown up in a Western country. I can’t recall any close friends that I’ve made that have only grown up in Taiwan. I imagine if I live there someday, I’d make more Taiwanese friends. I remember my friends used to joke that I’m a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), although I always joked that it was more of a ripe banana, because I was very tanned as a child.

There was an interesting discussion in class today, where a student said that we tend to stick with those similar to us. She mentioned how most of her friends were white, and she is a Caucasian woman herself. It was interesting, because I thought about how most of my friends growing up were white, but perhaps it was also because I lived in the country side. When I moved out of home and into the city at sixteen, I realised that there was a huge Asian community in the city. However, aside from ethnicity, I do agree in the sense that some of my closest friends are Christian, hold similar values and may have had some similar experiences.

When I meet people, I introduce myself as Katie. Unless I’m in Taiwan, my Mum introduces me as Mimi which is the nickname I grew up with. However, I normally say Katie. Mimi is what my parents and family friends call me. My Chinese name is 郭天仁, and the 郭 ( guō) literally means a wall surrounding the city. It’s one of the most common Chinese surnames. Many of the people who have the surname are descendants of Han Chinese. The word 天 (tiān) means sky, heaven and God. The word 仁 (rén) means kindness, benevolent and righteous. My Chinese name is my Middle name. As you can imagine, if it was my name growing up (Tien-Jen Kuo) in school, I feel like most people wouldn’t be able to pronounce it correctly.

I was named by my 奶奶 (Grandmother), and even though I’m not often called by my Chinese name, it holds a special place in my heart. It’s similar to those who travel to China and Taiwan and end up living there. Many Westerners will get a Chinese name, even if it’s similar to their English name. It creates familiarity and ease so that one can pronounce the name. My Chinese name is considered quite gender neutral, or maybe a bit tomboy because it’s not a very feminine name. Some of the ways that I identify myself: a woman, daughter, sister, niece and friend. I’m a Taiwanese New Zealander, but I’m also Chinese because of my family background. I’m a creative, independent, understanding, caring, kind and empathetic person.

There is a way that people perceive one another in the public, but I always feel like there’s this mystery in each person. We don’t really know anyone, really. It’s not until we dig deeper, spend time getting to know someone and opening up to friends that we can see beneath the layers. No matter what, it’s only you and you alone that holds your identity. It goes for our attitude in life, and whether we identify ourselves as a positive, hardworking and engaging person or the opposite. Identity can have huge affects in our daily life, because they can affect our thoughts and actions. The importance is not to limit yourself.

I think of New Zealand, and how anyone who calls it home here are a Kiwi. It doesn’t matter if you moved here a year ago or have spent a life time here. It’s also small things, such as when I hear someone is vegetarian or don’t eat much meat, I feel glad and I know they may share similar values in that respect. I don’t think our job title, income and materials define us. I think it’s our actions, how we treat one another, where we call home and the language we speak that can be parts of our identity. Most of all our personality, because that’s something that’s completely different in every person. I feel like I don’t have a strong Kiwi accent, but I do identify myself as a Kiwi.

I love being in nature, and consider myself a sensitive person. I used to be painfully shy when I was a child, but I was completely myself at home, and was silly, cheeky and laughed a lot. But it sort of shows how it’s so easy for the outside world to see one another a certain way, but there are certain parts of ourselves that won’t always be revealed to everyone. I am very empathetic towards those with anxiety and depression, because I’ve been through the tough parts. There are so many ways we can see ourselves, because everyone has a different background, hobbies, occupation, language, character and so on. We have different preferences of film, books, music, food and clothes. But I think put simply: I’m Katie, and that’s me.

Photography by Sun Jun

8 thoughts on “How Do You Identify Yourself?

  1. It is rather interesting how much we have in common. I, too, wrote a post about names, what does it mean and the associations with them. My brother got a DNA test because his wife wanted to know what the kids were exactly – so I know what I am now – down to a science!

    It turns out grandma was right. We have some Russian, but the surprise was the percentage of Polynesian we had because we were raised on Hawaii! But our parents immigrated to America – soooooo, wow, right? And we also have a tiny tiny bit of Middle Eastern in us too which we attributed to our Chinese side.

    But it is expensive. Maybe wait until you have kids? :P

  2. Great post. Very well thought through. I’ve had similar discussions lately with blogging friends about the feeling of belonging somewhere and where you might think your roots are. Anyway, thank you for sharing.

  3. Katie, this is an interesting read and I can somewhat relate. As a Taiwanese American, I felt like an outsider growing up every time I visited Taiwan. I decided to take a class in Taipei and made a lot of friends starting from that one classroom. I found it really easy to make friends in Taiwan as long as you put one foot out. The Taiwanese Americans or Taiwanese + other countries, work like a family. I’m forever grateful for both my friends and family in and out of America. If you need anyone to talk to, I’ll be here :)

    1. Thank you for you comment :) That’s true, I find whenever I’m in Taiwan, people are friendly and welcoming. I’m so glad to hear that, and thank you!! xx

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