Am I enough?
Every New Years, I spend the day with family. My Mum’s side. It’s loud, full of food, and full of people. I see familiar faces, my aunts, uncles and cousins. They stay for the full day, from lunch to well after dinner. Laughing, talking, eating, the food is never ending. I see not-so-familiar faces, a collection of relatives I only know by appearance. They come every year for thirty minutes and I wish them a ‘Happy New Year!’ as they do the rounds. I’d bet the blood we share would amount to no more than a drop, too weak to justify the forced smiles and awkward conversations I have to endure. I don’t try to ask how we are related, not anymore, choosing rather to smile as they walk past.
As a kid, I hid away, with a handful of my closest cousins in the shadows of a spare bedroom. We tucked ourselves away from the rest of the house, playing on our Nintendo DS’, being happily anti-social. In part because we were kids and in part because we didn’t know how to behave around so many relatives. There were too many people outside that room. Too many names I couldn’t remember, too many relatives I couldn’t identify. As I get older, I find myself leaving that room more and more. The same handful of cousins and I now sit in the living room, the heart of the house. We are the first to see people arrive, the first to greet them with awkward smiles and a chorus of ‘Happy New Years!’. Whenever lunch was called a feeling of excitement would fill the house as we all filtered into the backyard. Plates of homemade food, two tables long sat in the centre of the backyard, a mini buffet. Grandma’s meatballs, my aunties pastries, anything you could ask for, even the occasional bucket of KFC. A recent, unconventional addition but one loved by us all. I am always called out for my plate’s lack of variety and lack of vegetables. Whilst there are familiar dishes, there are so many I don’t know, so many I’m afraid to try.
As time passes, we try to continue traditions. If you’re family, you show up, even if you can only for ten minutes. Red envelopes are seen in the background, handed from adults to children, aunts and uncles to nieces and nephews and distant family to everyone they pass. For the immediate family it’s slightly different, we carve out time for the envelopes. It goes by age, first the grandparents take their seat and each grandkid, by family group, come forward to receive their share. Despite the mother tongue of ‘Hakka’ not being passed down to everyone, we all have to speak it to receive our envelopes. A tradition which brings a sense of unity despite the various languages spoken in the family. With the older generations speaking mostly ‘Hakka’ and younger generations speaking mostly English, this carved out time was special. The non-Chinese speaking cousins and I will sometimes find ourselves surrounded by relatives speaking Chinese. This is all well and good until you hear your name appear in conversation. Your English name. The word is jarring, it sticks out amongst the Chinese. A feeling of dread overcomes me every single time this happens.
Suddenly, it’s photo time. Everyone is called as we try to squeeze each face into the one frame. There are about ten different cameras, one from each family. I never see these photos until later, once I’m back at home. My dad, brothers and I always stand out. My dad is the obvious outlier, his features are very different. It’s little things, facial features, the shape of his eyebrows, the tone of his skin. Small aspects which mark our differences. My brothers and I also stand out but not as much. Our features are different too. Less apparent but still there. My eldest brother blends in the most, my second eldest brother and I are clearly mixed. We share some similar features but not enough. I wish I did.
Am I enough?
Every Christmas, I spend the day with family. My Dad’s side. It’s loud, full of food and contains just the immediate family. Every face is familiar, there’s just a handle of uncles, one aunt and two cousins. They stay for the full day, from lunch to well after dinner. I know each face, each name, each personality and they know mine. As a kid, I couldn’t hide myself away, there weren’t enough people. So, I just stayed quiet. I was the ‘shy one’. I kept to myself, laughing when appropriate and talking when asked. Everyone is gathered in the one room, there’s snacks, finger food and light conversation here and there. We divide into pairs or threes to have conversations, discussing jobs, life and travel. I sit on the edge of these groups, listening in but never talking. I don’t know what I’d say. As I get older, I find myself getting out of that more and more. I make jokes to be laughed at, I start conversations and help before I’m asked.
As time passes, we try to continue traditions. If you’re family, you show up, even if you can only stay for ten minutes. We stopped exchanging gifts a few years ago, no one knew what to buy each other apart from socks and underwear. Our one tradition is having lunch together. If you’re late for lunch, you can expect to be met with choice words from everyone. Especially my Aunt. The table is lined with ham, pork, prawns and salads. Every year there’s a new salad. Christmas crackers line the table and you’re required to wear your paper hat the whole time. We are each designated a seat around the table. Your following conversations all depend on where you’re sat, who you’re sat next to. It can range from lively to slightly awkward. The star of the show is always dessert. The Christmas pavlova. Each year it is made by my Aunty, full of whipped cream and topped with various fruits. After five minutes it will have vanished, plate completely wiped clean by our greedy hands and rumbling stomachs.
Suddenly, it’s photo time. Everyone is called as we try to squeeze each face into the one frame. There are around three camera’s taking photos, one from each family. I never see these photos until later, once I’m back at home. My mum, brothers and I always stand out. My mum is the obvious outliner, her features are very different. It’s little things, facial features, the shape of her eyes, the tone of her skin. Small aspects which mark our differences. My brothers and I also stand out but not as much. Our features are different too. My eldest brother stands out the most, my second eldest brother and I are clearly mixed. All the features that blended us with mum’s side now, make us stand out. Set us apart. We still share similar features but not enough. I wish I did.
Am I enough?
“Mixed babies are the most gorgeous.”
“How did your parents meet?”
“You are so lucky, you belong to TWO cultures.”
Everyone with a mixed background has heard these phrases.
However, there’s something these people never understand. I am a part of two cultures but belong to neither. I walk the line between two lives but can never fully fall into either. No matter how hard I try, I will never be enough for either culture. In both experience and appearance, I’m not white enough for one side and not Asian enough for the other.
Am I enough?
Since I was younger, I wished I was born as one or the other but I’m not. I am a mix of both. My skin is tan, not as tan as my mums and not as pale as my dad’s. I have my dad’s eyebrows and my mum’s hair. My eyes are a mix of both. I can speak English but not Chinese. I smother Western food in tomato sauce and Asian food in soy sauce. These features, these traits mark me as who I am, a mix of two cultures, two backgrounds, two halves that I am learning to accept make up me.
︎Katherine is a second year Media (Screen and Sound) student who studies film yet has willingly seen both Sonic and the Emoji Movie and continues to regret these decisions.︎