vendredi 15 juin 2007
Rice Village, East Village, Global Village
(Self-portrait, November 2002. Copyright © by MA Shumin.)
My life is a journey from one village to another.
I was born in a small rice village in Taishan, Guangdong province, China. My parents were rice farmers. My grandparents were rice farmers. The ancestors before them were rice farmers. It looked very likely that my elder brother and I were to also become rice farmers in our village too.
Then fate changed. In 1985, when I was not yet six years old my family left the rice village to come to New York’s Manhattan Chinatown. My surroundings changed from rice fields and vast mountains and giant fields of sugar canes and running pigs and chickens – to giant skyscrapers and honking, speeding cars and all these people who didn’t speak my Taishanese dialect.
Though I left China at a young age to go to America, I still am very Chinese. Growing up in New York’s Chinatown and East Village, I learned American English while upholding my Chinese heritage. I went to ten years of Chinese School on Mott Street from age seven to seventeen, and my family always spoke Chinese at home. The Manhattan Chinatown environment, my family and my childhood Chinese friends all reminded me of my Chinese roots.
When my mother passed her US citizenship exam in 1992, my brother and I automatically became US citizens (and lost our Chinese citizenship) since we were both under 18. Not only did I not have any say in the matter, I did not even realize I became a US citizen. To my parents, it was not a matter of pride and patriotism but about practicality. It is beneficial to have American status.
Despite holding an American passport, I have never felt like a true American. In America I had a minority face and did not speak the perfect American English. But it is when I leave America that I realize I am more American than I am aware of. Living in France, when people detect my American accent they immediately classify me as an American. As I do not speak French with a Chinese accent, they do not see me as a true Chinese from China.
During the many times I returned to visit Taishan with my family in the summer vacations during my childhood, and when I studied abroad in Hong Kong during college, the Chinese in mainland China also viewed me as an outcast too. I am a stranger in my own native land. I am not a pure Chinese. I am different because I have been westernized. I dress differently, I act differently, and I don’t speak Chinese as perfectly. It’s tough. I can’t help but have a case of lost identity. What identity am I? Where do I belong?
I studied in France during college, and made the decision on my own to move to Europe after graduation. I appreciate Europe for its history, its love for the arts, the different cultures, and see it as a ‘home’ that I’ve chosen for myself to live in. I did not choose to be born in China, or to immigrate to America, but as an adult, I have chosen to live in Europe. And it’s a wonderful feeling, to be able to have the freedom to choose where you want to be at. I know that this is one of the most important opportunities that America has given me: the freedom to live anywhere.
And I love being a Chinese-American in Europe.
I am comfortable now being not 100% Chinese, not 100% American, and not 100% European. Perhaps that is a symbol that I am living in a Global village. My brother lives in Shanghai, my parents live in New York and I live in Paris. The world is getting smaller and we are not just restricted to one city, one country as home. I love that I am able to speak Chinese (and all its many dialects), English, French, and other languages I have the chance to learn in the future, all in one location. I have become an international citizen living and working in a global village. The more I travel to work and learn, the more I want to continue learning. And I hope as a filmmaker, I will be able to make films that link China and USA and Europe.