Cultural identities are identities that each person has, no matter where he or she is. Cultural identities ultimately form who we are and what we do. Therefore, in the following discussion, I would investigate my own cultural identity in a few sections. The first section is the cultural and social identities, where I will discuss about the identities which I have since I was born, which are my racial, ethnic, religious and regional identity. This is followed by cultural space, where I will talk about identities that I have formed since I am in the United States, which are racial, national and age identity. Next, I will discuss about the technology I use in my life and how it relates to my cultural identity. The final section will talk about my cultural future, which is to become a financial advisor. Hence, I believe I have many cultural identities that I have instilled since I was born, and I have a few more when I came to United States.
Section One: Cultural and Social Identities
Since I was born, I have identified myself as a Chinese in terms of racial identity. This is because I was born to a pure Chinese family. Being Chinese has been one of my proudest achievements. The Chinese people put a lot of emphasis in education, and hence, since I was a young boy, my grandparents and parents have taught me words every day. My parents said that I could read the newspapers when I was about 1 year old, and also could tell the time after that. Because of this, I was fluent in the language I spoke when I was young, which was surprisingly English. This was because my mother and my maternal grandparents did not understand Mandarin Chinese, and as my father was travelling abroad nearly every year, he was not able to teach me Mandarin before I learned the language in kindergarten school. This is also the reason why my weakest language is in fact, my “mother tongue”, Chinese. I also learned a dialect of the Chinese language, which was Cantonese when I was young, because although my mother and maternal grandparents could not understand Mandarin Chinese, they were fluent in Cantonese. However, unlike them, until today, I am still not entirely fluent in Cantonese, but I improved myself since then by watching Cantonese dramas from Hong Kong, my favorite pastime.
In terms of ethnic identity, I identify myself as a Chinese Malaysian. Chinese Malaysians were Malaysians whose ancestors were from China. As a fourth-generation Chinese Malaysian, I have grown to love the food I had in Malaysia. The Chinese cuisine in Malaysia is different from the Chinese cuisine in China, as the Chinese cuisine in Malaysia tends to use both ingredients that are predominantly used by Chinese and other races. Hence, the staple food in Malaysia, “nasi lemak”, which has a literal translation of fats rice, has been cooked by the Chinese as well. Because I am Chinese Malaysian, I also get to experience the food from different races and learn to love all of them. I love the “roti canai”, which means flatbread made by Indians, the chicken shredded noodles made by the Chinese and the “nasi lemak” made by the Malays. The food in Malaysia is diverse, but all cuisines have a similarity: They have spicy cuisines which I personally love. The spiciness of Malaysian cuisines is considered very spicy to a lot of people here in the United States, but it is not very spicy for me. As a Malaysian, I have been trained to eat and enjoy spicy food as an enhancing flavor.
In terms of religious identity, I identify myself as a person practicing three religions that intertwine each other, which are Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, also known as the Three Teachings. This might seem to be a little weird to other people, but in Malaysia, although people label themselves as Buddhist, they also incorporate Taoism and Confucianism as well. Honestly, I am not a religious person, nor are my parents. I do not usually celebrate Buddha’s birthday, the Wesak Day, nor do I remember every god’s day, but I still stand strong with my beliefs as a person practicing Three Teachings. The Buddhism and Taoism parts of me are strong when I am facing major examinations, where I pray to the gods using incense, or during the first day of Chinese New Year, where I go to temples and pray to the gods for a good year ahead. On the other hand, on my everyday life, I practice Confucianism because it is not just only a religion, but also a way of life. For example Li, or morals, means that I should be polite and kind to everyone I meet, and Xiao, or filial piety, means that I should respect my elders, especially my parents. Confucianism, to me, has played a major role of shaping me into myself today, and I believe that every Chinese, no matter the religion, would agree on this with me that Confucianism is a way of life for the Chinese.
I am from a suburban city not too far from the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, which is called Subang Jaya. Subang Jaya is about 15 minutes from another large city, Petaling Jaya. Subang Jaya is a part of the Klang Valley, which is a term for the most advanced modern and fast-paced areas of Malaysia. Because I have lived in Subang Jaya since young, English was the main language I spoke in school. This was because nearly everyone in Subang Jaya spoke English, which was unlike the case in my birthplace and hometown, Ipoh, Perak, where people mainly spoke Cantonese. English was very important there as it was considered the business language in Malaysia. Malay, as it was the official language in Malaysia, was important as well, but English was the language used in everyday communication. However, the English used in Malaysia may be incorrect in syntax and grammar as Malaysians use a variety of languages in one sentence, which in a way, is somewhat like interlanguage. Traffic congestion in Subang Jaya was one of the worst in Malaysia, as there were many people living here, and every house in Subang Jaya would have a minimum of a car because the public transport in Malaysia was not entirely reliable, especially during peak office hours.
Section 2: Cultural Space
I currently live in Selleck Quadrangle, or more commonly known as Selleck, which is a traditional residence hall in campus. The residence hall itself is mainly catered to international students, which is why there are many international students like me living in here. Selleck is a coed traditional hall, and has 5 blocks from the 4000 to the 8000 block, each block containing 3 floors. I live in the 4200 floor, which means I’m at the second floor of the 4000 block. My floor consists of Brazilians, Chinese, a few Americans and Malaysians like me. Selleck has become my first home outside of Malaysia, and I treat it as my home as my home is a few thousand miles away from here and I will not be able to go back to Malaysia for the time being.
My roommate is Daniel, and he is from China. Although we are both Chinese, as we are from different countries, our values are somewhat different from one another. As an example, I come from a tropical country, Malaysia, and because of this, I prefer the colder climate and I like to turn on the air-conditioner. Daniel, on the other hand, comes from a colder part of China, Xuzhou, where he prefers the room to be a little warmer and dislikes having the air-conditioner on for the whole day. Although we may have the same racial identity, we do not have the same likes. However, we have managed to solve the problem by accommodation, which I will accommodate him by turning off the air-conditioner when it is bedtime and leave the windows open instead. We solve it through discussions that start with “I think…” or “I believe…” which is politer than just shouting rudely to one another.
My neighbors around my floor are mainly Brazilians and Chinese, and I do realize that when Brazilians and Chinese are with their own nationalities respectively, they communicate with one another in their native language, Brazilian Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese. However, when I am around usually, they will speak to me in English, as a sign of courtesy. Brazilians have difficulty trying to understand what I speak sometimes because I speak very fast naturally, as in Malaysia I have been trained to do so. My accent is considered clear by them, but because I may use adjectives and vocabularies which may not be understood by them. As an example, to describe a shirt’s color, I would use “dark red”, whereas the Brazilians will use just “red” to describe the color of the shirt. Because of this, I have to simplify my sentences and choice of words to accommodate their understanding so that I would not have misunderstandings with them. However, all of us as international students are trying to have integration with the people here so that we can communicate with other cultural groups to understand better and also to maintain our own unique cultures.
My neighbors at my floor are either around my age or older, and we are all in different years in college. As the legal drinking age is 21, my neighbors usually go out during the weekends to the bars and clubs in Downtown Lincoln to consume alcohol. I am underage, and hence I have to stay in my rooms, or go to the basement and talk to my friends to find some entertainment. Because of this, my Brazilian friends and neighbors often call me a baby, which is a way of teasing me being underage and unable to consume alcohol. I feel somewhat insulted, as the drinking age in Malaysia is 18, and I have consumed alcohol there before coming to Lincoln. However, as this is a small matter, I just laugh along with them and say that I will just wait for two more years.
Section Three: Technology in Life
The platforms I use the most in communicating with other people are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and an online forum named Southperry.net. These platforms have made me aware about my culture, as unlike most people my age; I like to convey my messages in full sentences. I am very particular about the syntax and spelling I use in writing statuses on all social platforms. I have seen many people, no matter the race or ethnicity, typing in grammatically incorrect sentences, which really irks me. However, I do also realize that I tend to use words which are commonly used in Malaysia, but not here in Lincoln, such as colloquial words (“Kena”, which means got in English), or Malaysian English words which are not used in here (“Handphone”, which means mobile or cell phone). It made me feel aware about my Malaysian culture which I thought was universal before this.
Besides, using these platforms also ignites my cultural and social identities. My national identity is very significant here as I have posted pictures of myself attending the Homecoming Parade as an international student from Malaysia. Besides, my racial and ethnic identity is also quite significant in the platforms I use because I use Chinese to post my status sometimes, and I also comment about the Cantonese dramas that I watch which a lot of people may not understand the content. My regional identity is also quite obvious as I complain about the traffic congestion back in Malaysia nearly every day. All these examples simply show that I embrace all of my cultural and social identities using technology.
Technology also provides an opportunity for me to connect with individuals from other cultural groups. Southperry.net is the place where I met with individuals which are very different from one another. There are Americans, Brazilians, and Australians and then there’s me as a Malaysian. However, everyone shares their interests in the same game, Mafia, and thoroughly enjoy the game all together as teams. We communicate with one another using a common language, English, naturally, so that everyone understands what are talking about. However, we do not know the true identity of one another, as it is an online forum and private information need not be disclosed by anyone. Hence, identity tourism takes place here because I do take on a different identity when playing Mafia in Southperry.net than in real life. I become a little more clueless and argumentative than usual, as Mafia requires me to do so. Besides, I also use Twitter to communicate with other cultural groups. There are various people from other nationalities that communicate with me via tweets, retweets and favorites. As an example, I talked about the play I have recently watched, Unity (1918) in Twitter, and a friend whom I have not met personally from here commented about the play, asking me if I enjoyed plays. We were literally talking to one another publicly about the play, saying that plays are a good way of entertainment. It was really an exciting experience because I have never thought of talking to people of different cultural groups on Twitter.
Section Four: Cultural Future
I am currently majoring in Finance, and minoring in Communication Studies. I have chosen this major because I am really interested in the mathematical side of business, though I am not interested in the closer major, Actuarial Science as I do not want to take professional papers in order to become a fully acknowledged professional. I chose Communication Studies as a minor because I took communication subjects back in Malaysia and I have grown to love those subjects. I can see myself in the future being self-employed, working as a financial adviser as I like communicating with people, helping them when I can, relating to the major I have chosen.
I believe I will need a lot of communication skills if I have gotten the job as a financial advisor working for myself, as I will have to communicate with various people, from clients to my employees and partners. I imagine myself working in New York City, New York, where it is one of the main financial hubs in the world. Hence, I believe I would need a suitable age identity, as I would have to dress appropriately according to my age, to work. I believe in first impressions, and I know that many people believe in that too. I would also have to act like my age and not a kid, being responsible and serious when the time arises. Besides, I believe I will need to stand strong in my religious identity as a person practicing Three Teachings. One of the Three Teachings is Confucianism, which plays a major part in my life. To me, I will need to respect and be polite to every person I meet when I am working, no matter the class and age, which is one of the foundations of being a Confucian. As I come from a collectivistic country, I would need to get used to the individualism here as United States is more individualistic than Malaysia as well. Unlike in Malaysia, where I can depend on my family to help me in solving problems in my daily life, I will have to learn to be independent, and rely on myself instead.
As a summary, in the first section, I have talked about my social and cultural identity that I have instilled since I was born, such as racial, ethnic, religion and regional identity. This was followed by cultural space, where I obtained new identities such as racial, national and age identity during the time in United States. The third section discussed about how technology was used to show my identities and played a role in connecting with other cultural groups. Finally, I talked about my cultural future, and how cultural identities can affect my future career as a financial advisor.
In conclusion, I realized that I have many identities that I had instilled since young, and I obtained new identities when I was and still am in United States. I am pleasantly surprised that these identities are appearing in me, and I embrace all of those identities. I believe everyone should embrace their identities, because these identities are unique and can differentiate people as individuals and a member of a group at the same time.
Leland Chow is a sophomore reading Finance and Communication Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This is an essay written as an assignment for one of the subjects he is currently undertaking.