One of my earliest memories from childhood is explaining to my teacher in front of the class why Chinese New Year came a little bit later than January 1st.
“It’s a different calendar,” was all I could come up with as a six year old.
Still, she pressed on. “And what do Chinese people do to celebrate?”
I wasn’t actually sure, so I just said we ate more food with our family (pretty much how Chinese people celebrate anything, really). Satisfied with my answer, my teacher continued with her geography lesson. Every so often she referred to me, a child, as her spokesperson for the millions of people in the world who looked like me.
Back then, as the token minority in my all-white school, I was distinctly aware of just how different I was, and it seemed most of the school made sure I knew it too. I wanted nothing more than to blend in with everyone else, and stop being, well, me.
Fast forward almost twenty years later, and how things have changed. These days, so many people around the world know about the Lunar New Year and have heard the story about the Chinese zodiac animals. In my hometown, red lanterns have been strung up around the city centre as well as an art display of the terracotta army. It’s heartening to see that different cultures have been not only acknowledged but celebrated as well. Quite a vast difference from the way my Chinese culture was (and sometimes still is) treated as shameful or a laughing stock.
I’m sure the fact that China has become a much more powerful country also plays a part too. It’s no secret that Hollywood, for example, is more than eager to cash in on the Asian market. Luxury brands are also pandering to a relatively new clientele in China. From this perspective, it sounds a bit pessimistic that the only reason society is accepting of new cultures is just to cash in.
Still, I’m quietly confident that we as a society are becoming more open minded and liberal, even if it might not look that way. Seeing the crowds of people who participated in the Women’s March and the amount of protesters against Trump’s “Muslim ban” has given me quite a bit of hope in humanity after all.
As we start the new year, let’s not forget the way so many strangers across the world banded together to show support for people they dont know and will never meet. Let’s use this as a reminder that our differences are to be celebrated, not to cause more divisions.
Good luck. We’re going to need it.