Students find it difficult to keep heritage

BY ALLISON YANG
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 19, 2002

Though students face many challenges while being away from home for the first time, some minority students said that maintaining their heritage is just as difficult as keeping up with their course work.

Some minorities, including LSA junior Leslie Goo, feel they are in a confusing situation where they are stuck between cultures.

Goo spent her first 15 years growing up in Indonesia, before moving to China. Her mother is an Indonesian citizen while her father is a Malaysian citizen. Goo said she never really got to know any of her extended family because they all spoke Chinese while her immediate family spoke Indonesian.

"I don't think I have a culture. Well, it's not that exactly. I just don't know what it is," Goo said. "The hardest question anyone could ask me is, 'where are you from?' I don't feel like I belong anywhere. I am not Malaysian, Indonesian or Chinese. I wish I could identify with one."

Some students with various backgrounds say that adapting to the American way of life can result in a loss of their original languages, customs and cultures.

This loss is due to a number of causes, which can vary between different ethnic groups.

After living in the United States and becoming part of its culture, some said they became confused about whether they belong to the culture of their ancestors or the one in which they were raised. Often times, the two cultures conflict between their beliefs, celebrations and lifestyles. Consequently, many said they feel they need to belong to one or the other because it is too difficult to belong to both.

LSA senior Jiann Jung grew up in a Korean household and said she puts a lot of effort daily into maintaining her cultural background.

"Yes, I try to keep up with my culture. I have lots of Korean friends, and I watch Korean dramas. I also talk with my parents often, which helps. ... I think they're kind of in the middle of two backgrounds - not really in theirs' and not in the American either. Sometimes if I go to Korea, I feel like I don't fit in there, but in the U.S., I don't fit here either. It gets really confusing," Jung said.

Others, like Engineering senior Dhruv Gupta, said they feel that when they are not surrounded by people of their same background, they become caught up in what the majority practices and fail to remember their former practices.

"I don't practice everything that I did in my hometown. It's not that I am forgetting. I make an effort to practice what my culture asks, but I am too busy. Back home I see people do it, but here not as many people have the same rites and rituals, much less," he said.

The way minorities strive to hold on to their culture also varies between groups.

LSA sophomore Raquel Fernandez comes from a Hispanic background that has been Americanized so that life is similar in Costa Rica as it is in the United States.

"Family is very important to my culture. I talk to my family four times a week."

From the first time Fernandez came to the University, she was contacted by various Hispanic organizations to help maintain her heritage by spending time with people with the same culture.

Hispanics show a great pride in their culture. Fernandez said she believes that "you never have to forget where you're from. If you forget about where you're from you become a fake person," Fernandez said.

As the second most commonly spoken language in the nation, Fernandez said Hispanics feel it is important to preserve the language within their homes and communities. Fernandez added that she feels that continuing to speak Spanish has helped her maintain her Hispanic background

Language is also an important aspect of the Asian cultures. Goo said a lot of parents would send their children to grammar schools where their background language is taught in addition to English.

In Indonesia, Goo was educated at an international school where she also learned to speak English. Since it was an international school, students came from all different backgrounds. In 1998, her family moved to China, and she continued her education at another English speaking international school. Goo said attending international schools is how she became Americanized.

Some minorities said they feel more comfortable around people of a similar background. But Goo said surrounding yourself with people of the same background only leads to segregation.

"I have never witnessed discrimination or derogatory comments from different groups (at the University). But, I noticed they hang on to each other and segregate themselves," Goo said. "Someone the other day pointed out the Chinese Christian Fellowship to me. If it's Christian, why does it need to be only Chinese? Why segregate? Because people feel more comfortable. But for me it's different. I don't feel comfortable with any particular group."

There are also things that minorities leave behind and cannot completely regain in the American culture.

"I've had to adapt to other things like food, but I learn to tolerate it, since I can't do much about it. But I still miss it," Fernandez said.

If Jung could change things to make life more comfortable for her and other minorities she said she would try to destroy barriers by making American friends. She also said she would get involved in other aspects of American culture, like Halloween. Jung says that the University's diverse background helps to maintain her culture.