APA Month Guest Post: Caroline Tung Richmond

Happy Wednesday, everyone! This post is up late because the puppy has been devouring my time. ALL OF MY TIME. So I got to formatting this thing late and couldn't finish before my own now-considerably-earlier bed time.

Luckily, today's post is a real treat! We're hosting freelance writer and YA/MG writer, Caroline Tung Richmond! We hit it off over Twitter and Pinterest (I don't even remember how), and she very graciously agreed to writing a guest post for us in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Caroline wearing her brother's hat from his traditional outfit.
Earlier this month, Caroline took a trip with her family to Taiwan to visit her brother and sister-in-law. It was her first trip back to her parents' homeland, and I asked her to share her thoughts about her experience.

Take it away, Caroline!
(All photos courtesy of Caroline)

I hate to admit it but....

I haven't always been proud of my Chinese heritage.

Growing up, I wanted to be just like my friends, most of whom were white. I wanted long blond hair with freckles to match, like the most popular girls in school. I wanted to eat roast beef for dinner instead of steamed eggs over rice. And I wanted to have a "normal" last name like Jones or Carter instead of Tung, which no one could pronounce the first time around.

I didn't want to be different. I didn't want to be Chinese.

During my junior year in college, however, something inside of me shifted. Maybe it was because I was a little older. Or maybe it was because I felt more comfortable in my skin. Whatever it was, I started dipping my toes in my ethnicity. I signed up for Asian history classes and I took three semesters of Chinese language. After graduation, I was even lucky enough to take a week-long trip to Beijing. I had come a long way from the little girl who wanted blue eyes and a different last name. And yet...

I felt like I was missing the last puzzle piece.

Which was odd to me. After all, I had studied Chinese and I had visited China, where all four of my grandparents had hailed from. What else did I have to do to feel fully connected to my heritage?
Night view from Taipei 101
Alishan National Park
It took me a long time to figure out the answer. See, life got busy: I got married; I moved. I started a new career and we moved again. But a few months ago, my dad brought up the idea of visiting Taiwan as a family. Both he and my mom had grown up in Taipei, and my brother now lived there with his new Taiwanese wife. Wouldn't it be fun to see them and tour around the country a little?

Xiao Long Bao - soup-filled dumplings
So we packed our bags and, four weeks ago, my whole family flew to Taipei, Taiwan. I was giddy, of course. I have a bad case of the travel bug and I was ridiculously excited to explore a new country (the food! the sites! the photographic opportunities!). I was expecting a fun vacation with my family, with plenty of sunshine and touristy things to do. I wasn't expecting the trip to affect me the way that it did.

But after we spent our first full day in Taiwan, something simply clicked in my mind. Maybe it was visiting my grandfather's grave, who died before I was born. Or maybe it was touring my parent's alma mater. Or maybe it was as simple as eating a big bowl of noodle soup and thinking it was so much better than roast beef. Whatever it was---and as cliche as it sounds---I felt like I had come home. That sense of belonging I was searching for as a kid? It was here in Taiwan. This was the place where my parents had grown up. This was the place where my family was buried. And this was the place that had helped define who I was, even though I had never stepped foot in it until now.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
I feel lucky and fortunate and blessed to have visited Taiwan with my family. It was a homecoming of sorts, even though we don't have a home there. And I'm looking forward to my next visit.

Although I can do without the spiders!

No pics of giant spiders, but here is a size-of-my-hand snail!

Caroline Tung Richmond writes all sorts of things, from travel reviews to spacesuit articles to YA and MG novels. She is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. A native of the Washington, DC area, Caroline likes cherry blossoms, cupcakes, and anything relating to Star Trek: The Next Generation. She is terrified of spiders.

You can find Caroline online at:
Blog: Adventures in Space
Twitter: @ctrichmond
Website: Caroline T Richmond


Emy Shin said...

This is such a lovely post, Caroline.

There were years when I was ashamed of my heritage, too -- but growing up, growing into myself, has made me more and more proud of it each day. :)

Sophia Chang said...

So nice to meet you Caroline.

It sounds like all of us growing up in this country had to deal with varying degrees of self-hatred, shame and internalized racism. I feel even more bonded with my fellow yellows because of this pain/confusion.

Caroline Richmond said...

Emy, it's so good to see you again! How are you?

Like you, I'm so glad that I've grown into a place where I'm really proud of my heritage instead of embarrassed by it. I only wish that I had embraced it sooner! It would've saved me a lot of high school angst. :)

Sophia, it's so nice to meet you as well! I totally agree with what you said about feeling bonded with fellow yellows. (Haha, I'm going to have to use that phrase!)

There's simply a part of me that people can't truly understand unless they're Asians as well. I suppose it's just something you have to experience yourself, like the subtle racism that a lot of people don't notice because we are the "model minority."

Golden Eagle said...

Wonderful post!

It sounds like your trip to Taiwan was very influential. Someday I want to visit China, where I was born--I don't remember the country at all, but I think it would be an interesting experience.

Connie Keller said...

Lovely post!

I remember seeing the home where my mother grew up in the Netherlands. It's very grounding. Sometimes, I think that children of immigrants often feel kind of rootless. We grow up with cultural expectations that none of our peers experience. We grow up feeling the pressure of being successful so our parents' sacrifice was worthwhile.

Being the child of immigrants is a gift too. We can see beyond culture in ways that people who are part of their "home" culture never experience. As a writer, I really value that.

linda said...

Yay, Taiwan! :D So glad to hear you enjoyed your trip. I can relate to wanting to be white when I was younger, since most of my favorite heroines in the books I read were white, and I felt like I couldn't be as cool as they were as an Asian. But now I'm living in Taiwan and actually liking it a lot, haha. :)

Julie Dao said...

Agreed with everyone else, this was a lovely post! It's nice to meet so many wonderful Asian-American writers with the same experiences as me! I grew up in the whitest state in the nation, but I was lucky to always feel accepted and never to lose appreciation for my culture. (Thanks, tiger mom and dad.) But still there was always that sense of wanting to connect more and belong more to where I'd come from. Your Taiwan trip must have been amazing!

Lydia Kang said...

I hope to go to Taiwan someday with my hubbie's family, who are Taiwanese. Those soupy dumplings are my favorite! I'm drooling now, thanks!