I knew what America was ever since I could ask questions and roll jumbled up sentences off my tongue. I’d point at the TV and ask where these cartoons and funky colors and strange sounding lullabies were made. My mom would consider for a while; the colors were far too cheery, the animation too advanced, and the language too foreign and sharp to be Burmese. She’d say it’s from America.
Some people told me they dreamed of castles on clouds when they were little. Some say it was scaly dinosaurs and humanoid robots that filled their days. I dreamed of America. It was where all the candy factories were (I was devastated when I was told that Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is merely pretty fabrication). It was the birthplace of all my favorite cartoons, stuffed toys, and movies. It was where children ran wild in the streets, not hid indoors because there was a protest a few blocks from home.
When asked what my favorite colors were, I’d proudly say red, white, and blue.
My infatuation with the country subsided as I matured, of course. Not every childhood fantasy persists into adolescence but I always knew I wanted to go to America for college. It didn’t take too long for my dreams to become a reality and when I first set foot on American grounds, I knew this was going to be another page break. I was a nervous, blinking cursor on a whole new slate.
So, how electrifying was culture shock? Every bit of new information came in the form of short zapping waves, some of which are particularly delightful. Mustard was new. And so were eggs in milk cartons. ‘How are you?’ is usually not a conversation starter but a simple greeting (trust me, I learned this the embarrassing way) and the open door policy is no longer just a topic you learn in History class but it is this rule in dorms to help you socialize (yuck). A lot of the people here also had an unusual affinity for bodily contact; I can count on my fingers the number of times that I’ve hugged my family during my 19 years on this planet. All of these small bits and pieces of exposure to American culture made for fun conversations and anecdotes to laugh over a meal at Newcomb. What didn’t was the occasional backlash I received for being foreign.
No, I didn’t think everything in America was pristine, good, and right. What I did believe, though, was that everyone here was more informed about the world and unfortunately, I was incredibly naïve to have formed such a general assertion. According to some of the people here, I am ‘clearly Chinese’ and I ride elephants to school everyday. These comments were unpleasant to say the least but they paled in comparison to the presidential election of 2016. Ignoring the potential disaster Trump’s presidency could have on my professional future here in the States, what hurts the most about all of this is finally confronting my inner child and telling her, “You were wrong”.
I could tell you about how frustrating this is. I could tell you about how mad I was to have an overly baked sweet potato that is president-elect Trump shatter the good I see in America and how uncertain my professional future here in the States is. But I won’t. I won’t because no matter how disappointed I am after the turbulent ride that was the elections, I still love red, blue, and white. From my roommate buying me a bottle of mustard just to cheer me up, to the many strangers who smiled at me as they walked by, to all the kind souls I have had the privilege to meet here, there are so many things that scream greatness in America. This country is far from being a lost cause so cheer up, roll up those sleeves, whistle a tune, and get working.
Sidenote to children everywhere: Adults should be fact-checked too. Yes, even if it’s your mom.
***Disclaimer: this article is an opinion piece and does not explicitly represent the political ideas or affiliations of Asian Student Union or the University of Virginia***