This article is a part of the East-West Center - US-China Strong Foundation Guest Contributor Program, which shares the experiences of American students currently or previously studying in China.
By Citlali Blanco, High School Student, Chicago, Illinois. She is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.
Note: this article originally appeared in the East-West Center’s Asia Matters for America/America Matters for Asia initiative on January 5, 2018.
Despite the influence of my Latin culture, I am mostly a product of my ambition. So, after graduating from a primarily Hispanic elementary school, while my old friends chose Spanish as their high school language I chose what was most different in my mind--Mandarin. There began the seed of new possibilities for me.
Everyday, I was transported to a separate world within the classroom; I was amazed by the strokes of characters that had no meaning to me when I first walked into the classroom, but were full of meaning by the time I stepped out. My China story began with a yearning for different, and transformed into a yearning for depth. Little did I know that this longing for depth of knowledge would be attended to during the spring of my sophomore year.
Being the daughter of two first generation immigrants, I struggled to place myself in American society for the first years of my life. I therefore thought it extraordinary when my sophomore year Chinese teacher began planning a class trip to China; The thought of belonging to not one, or two, but three societies--whole countries! I spent one week in China, catching my first glimpse of the world I had been illustrating in my mind since freshman year. This was a milestone not only for myself, but for my whole family. It was an experience that shouted: I am Mexican, I was raised in America, I know China first-hand. I belong in the world because I am a global citizen.
This sense of interconnectedness and newly formed identity has since followed me in my Chinese studies. It followed me throughout the month I spent living in China with the dramatically inspiring 2017 CPS China Summer Language, Culture and Technology Initiative group, just as it follows me when I go home and teach my family phrases in Mandarin. I know that every new Mandarin word I learn, every new Chinese cultural fact I understand, and every intercultural friendship I form is a crucial board in the bridge I am building — a bridge larger than what my mind could have fathomed before the beginning of my China story — that spans from the roots of Mexico, across my warm home, America, all the way to the open hearts in China.