A conversation for me usually contains something like this:
“So, did you know I’m related to Jackie Chan?”
“No way! Are you actually?”
“No, but I wish!”
It’s a fun, playful joke I like to use with new people I meet. And for the record, I do believe my dad shares somewhat of a similar hairstyle and complexion to him. It is, however, interesting to see how people assume Jackie Chan and I are related since we share such a common last name.
Growing up among an Asian prevalent population in California, the last name ‘Chan’ was very predominant. And as I grew older, I felt as though I was floating in a wave pool along with the other thousands of ‘Chans’. Even in my school’s yearbook, an entire row was laid out and dedicated to all the ‘Chans’ in my grade. I couldn’t help but wonder what made me different from the rest of them which is a thought I’m sure we’re all too familiar with.
The unsettling feeling soon developed into a struggle of figuring out who I was.
To add to my stereotypical identity, the city I had lived in was nicknamed “Arcasia”– due to the high population of Asian Americans residing there. In this “diverse” city, it seemed to be a common sight to see us waking up for a long school day, only to dutifully end the evening with two hours of tutoring. And of course, Saturday mornings were reserved for Chinese lessons with piano practice right after. It seemed as though everyone was just living up to what was thought to be the norm. The unsettling feeling soon developed into a struggle of figuring out who I was. Little did I know how an one-way plane ticket to Singapore would soon open my naive eyes.
After my family made the move, a deeper revelation of the world that existed outside of California soon blossomed: this was the perfect chance for me to break the mold of being just another Asian American with the last name ‘Chan’. Up until this point, I had believed my culture to be a hindrance to my potential to become more. Instead of dragging my feet to piano practice on the weekends, I delved into the world of dance. Instead of spending hours at a desk in the tutoring center after school, I explored the true meaning of volunteer service. Ultimately, I was able to invest my time discovering what my passions were and cultivate an individual sense of self apart from living out the stereotypes. Life finally felt different.
But, this way of thinking is easier said than done. We often struggle with the idea of fitting in or standing out which is technically normal for us seventeen, eighteen-year-olds in an international high school to experience. Whichever it may be, wanting to stand out or fit in, the problem has less to do with us and our behavior and more to do with our cognitive thinking about our self-esteem.
With an environment that stems so deeply from superficial ideas such as popularity or academics which does affect the way we appear in front of ourselves, it’s no doubt that the negative thoughts infect us when we least expect them to. In order to combat this epidemic of not feeling worthy enough, it’s important to seek the activities that thoroughly brings us joy which in turn, can help us maintain a healthy mentality about our self-worth. And as cliche, as it sounds, it really shouldn’t matter what other people think and judge about us because those pessimistic thoughts hindered me from embracing my past where I called home for twelve years. But for me, it took moving to a whole new country to realize that I am more than just my last name.