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Forums / Multicultural experiences / Shame about my heritage

Topic: Shame about my heritage

23 posts, 0 answered
  1. james1
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    5 September 2018

    Hello everyone,

    I have a very short story here which I would like to share where I was made to feel shame about my Chinese heritage. I have experienced this a lot, and (un?)surprisingly much of it is from my own parents.

    If you have any stories of your own, I really welcome your posts.

    --

    My mother's family come from a little suburb in Guangzhou. It is quite a small, poor area, and it constantly reeks of sewerage and just rotten things. My mother was born there in a house that her father, my grandfather, built.

    Anyway, we were having a chat in the kitchen here one day and my mother said something that made me quite angry. She said, "I will never take my fiance back to my home. And you shouldn't take your girlfriend there either. It is too gross, and she will judge you."

    I may not have been born there, but it is where I am from. The smell is gross, true, but I have been back to that house every couple of years for my 26 years. It is where my roots are, even if I live in Australia. Why should I feel ashamed about the poverty of my past?

    I feel ashamed about the behaviour of many people from home, and perhaps it is none of my business, but I will never be so ashamed to not show my loved ones where I came from.

    ---

    Have any of you also been made to feel shame or embarrassment about where you come from, whether you feel it was right or wrong?

    Alternatively, is there something that you do feel shame about? Don't worry, we are not judging you nor your cultural background :)

    James

    5 people found this helpful
  2. Quercus
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    6 September 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi James,

    I believe no matter where we were born or raised our heritage is an important part of who we are and how we see ourselves.

    But the perception of what that that heritage actually IS can vary enormously.

    The difference between how you feel and your Mum feels I think shows exactly what I mean.

    My Mum was adopted. To her this is something to bury and hide. Shame. To me this is information I want and need. I feel no shame or embarrassment and want to know more.

    I can relate to how you wrote about wanting to share a place that is part of you with your girlfriend regardless of what it looks like.

    Growing up in rural Australia has shaped me. At times I feel embarrassed. Not because of my heritage but because I don't fit in here in the city. I keep trying to act as I see as "normal". Talking to and helping neighbours and strangers is one that frequently causes dramas. I'm not guarded enough for the city. I expect a community where none exists.

    Most of all I needed a spouse who understood and accepted that there are things I need. The best way for him to understand what I was trying to recreate was to see the family/community/culture I was raised in.

    By the way... Congrats on your extra MC role James 😊.

    Nat

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  3. james1
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    10 September 2018 in reply to Quercus

    Hey Nat,

    That's a great point about differences in what we perceive our heritage to be.

    For me, the poverty is part of my heritage.

    Perhaps for mum, that is not. Instead, she sees Chinese dramas and eating frog legs as her heritage - things that I don't identify with.

    Yes, I can understand how rural vs city life can be very different. In many ways, the struggles can be very similar to having overseas born parents vs local. It's interesting that you talk about recreating your heritage in your today life. I'd like to think a bit more about that, but just quickly, do you mind if I ask if you have been consciously or subconsciously (or both!) doing this?

    James

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  4. Doolhof
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    10 September 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi James, Nat and All,

    To me, my heritage and my culture is confusing because at times I don't really know who I am. Yes, I live in Australia so I am Australian, but what does that really mean?

    Now and then my Mum talks about her Germanic roots and I think about looking up Prussia and where her ancestors came from. Mum's memories of those German roots include tales of relatives being victimised in the world wars even though the family line had been in Australia since the mid 1880's.

    Mum talks of hardship, poverty, ancestors being tossed off their farms, struggling to make a living. Dad's family line is British. It seems as far as Dad is concerned his family consists of his siblings and his parents.

    All my life I have felt like I do not belong anywhere. Australia is my home, but like I mentioned what does that even mean?

    Growing up I feel we were judged more on our parent's poor financial status, my parent's not having been born in the town we lived in and my Mum's mental health issues.

    When I go "home to my childhood town" I have mixed emotions and that is okay.

    There are times when I wish I did know exactly where my ancestors came from and who they were. Maybe that would help me with my own sense of identity, and help me feel like I had a culture to relate to.

    As already discussed here, each individual has their own opinion of how they view their lives, their culture and heritage.

    Thanks for this discussion James!

    Cheers all from Dools

    2 people found this helpful
  5. Hayfa
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    10 September 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi James and everyone else,

    This is a really interesting topic, upon reading all the posts here it made me think about how people view their heritage and culture and, the different reasons why.
    For example, I see in Middle Eastern culture heritage can set a precedent for you wherever you go next in that can be used to define you, mark expectations and award you respect.
    Although you are an individual with your own identity, you are also described and identified as 'the son of (father's name)', with this comes the baggage of who that family line is, what part of the country, what is the life background, reputation etc...

    Your environment, community and family history becomes part of your heritage in this way. I don't agree that this is how a person should be identified or defined and I think every individual makes his own history whether good or bad.
    This brings with it a lot of connotations and in some cases unnecessary heartache, such as people disrespecting others based on life history and place of living.
    If one comes from humble beginnings and lived a relatively modest life in perhaps a very simple environment and home, there is a chance that this is all that people will use to label you rather than your personal history and achievements.

    I don't think any of this is right but unfortunately even in today's modern and evolving world we still have some cultural groups who think this way and place social reputation high on the agenda.

    I don't think that your mum is ashamed of her heritage but perhaps fears that other's who are privy to her heritage may judge it and her place in it?

    Just a thought x

    Hayfa

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  6. blueskye
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    12 September 2018 in reply to james1

    My mum was brought up in Guangzhou too! She has told me before that if anyone asks what my ethnicity background is, I should respond with “Hong Kong”/where my dad was brough up in. She said that it was because Hong Kong has a better reputation/richer than Guangzhou. I agree with Hayfa on “perhaps fears that other's who are privy to her heritage may judge it and her place in it?”

    I’ve been to Guangzhou before, and I personally prefer Hong Kong better. However, I don’t feel ashamed of Guangzhou when I think back on to how my parents upbringing. Mum’s family was very poor. Her family of 5 all slept and lived together in a cramped 1 bedroom apartment. However, my dad was brought up with several helpers (his parents were too busy travelling the world) in a big apartment that had scenic mountain views. Mum didn’t choose to be born in a poorer area, but she has become a stronger person than dad - in a sense that she has better survival instincts and adaptation.

    What I’m ashamed of my background is probably how loud Chinese people speak. I understand that it’s part of the culture, but it’s something I’ve never really liked.

  7. baet123
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    13 September 2018 in reply to blueskye

    Ni hao ma,

    Wo shi laizi aodaliya di nigulasi. Sorry if I said that incorrectly LOL.

    Love hearing about your cultures and thank you for creating dim sum <3 I love dim sum and have it all the time. My favourite things to eat are xiao long bao, char siu bao, dun ta, gao gee and lo mai gai. I would love to visit Southern China and Hong Kong and see whether it is different to how dim sum is in Sydney.

    Egyptians and Greek people are loud also! I think most ethnic/non-Anglo Saxon people are generally perceived to be loud. You should hear our Christmas party/Wedding. You will need to wear mufflers LOL.

    Thanks for sharing your upbringing and cultural background with me.

    All the best,

    Nick

    1 person found this helpful
  8. Donte'
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    13 September 2018 in reply to james1

    Hello James,

    Beautiful thread.

    I never felt particularly proud of my heritage and that’s why I didn’t teach my daughter my native language, neither indoctrinated her in the religion of my land or the traditions and customs of my parents.

    I also don’t feel shame about it either. I’m not ethnocentric and do not believe in nationalism of any form.

    I always knew that as nobody chooses their place of birth, their parents, their religion or language spoken in that land they happen to be born, there is no rationality about feeling proud of your heritage.

    I happened to be born somewhere and grew up there and I could have been born anywhere else and grown up in a totally different lifestyle.

    So who am I? Why would I have any duty to respect my background and be proud of it or perpetuate this cultural mindset in my life and pass it to my children?

    I hope you understand what I’m saying. I’m more than my ethnicity. I’m more than the traditions and customs and beliefs of a land I happen to be born in and a group of people I found myself a part of without having a say in the matter. Im no better and I’m no worse. There’s no reason to feel proud and no reason to feel ashamed. Actually I don’t feel anything at all most times. I’m this but I could be that or the other. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter at all cause nobody cares.

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  9. therising
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    14 September 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi James

    I am the product of previous generations of Australians (just to set the picture) and my sister-in-law was born in China, living there most of her life. When my my sister-in-law first came to Australia, she frowned upon those who were quite tanned, telling us 'The more tanned a person is in China the more of a 'peasant' they are'. She was proud of her 'fair skin' status. Anyway, after a number of years, she's decided that getting a tan here is important. Goes to show, we definitely have a multitude of mental programs existing in our brain based on what we've been conditioned to believe. Changing those programs can be a challenge at times. Cultural perception is a fascinating topic.

    As far as the shame game goes, being a stay at home mum for a number of years led to a lot of degrading comments from folk around me with 'Why don't you get a job so you can be an important contributor to the family' being one of them. Hmmm. I look at my teenagers and know that every second I spend with them is priceless. We are all valuable in so many ways, whether we're out there working or not, whether our skin is dark or fair and whether our roots are based in struggle and triumph or be those of financial privilege.

    At the end of the day, appearance and financial status can be some pretty intense and ingrained mental programs, instilled by the people who came before us. From what you write James, sounds like you have some positive and constructive realistic programs happening, ones that will reshape the thinking of future generations.

    Take care of yourself

    3 people found this helpful
  10. james1
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    14 September 2018 in reply to therising

    Hi Dools and Hayfa,

    It is so interesting to hear how we are blending so many factors into our "heritage" now. It is insufficient to say, "I am of Chinese heritage" or Lebanese, or Italian or whatever. It's also where you were born? What dialect did you speak? Was it your first language? Who are your parents? Where do you stand on the social ladder? Where did you grow up?

    So, yeah I guess it could be true that Mum was not ashamed of our Chinese ancestry, but perhaps of our place on the social ladder, or perhaps more interestingly, ashamed that we moved away from home, and away from family.

    After all, we're always being asked why we would want to live in Australia away from family, and I'm always asked why I would want to be with a non-Chinese partner. They even ask if I'm ashamed of being Chinese.

    Hello blueskye,

    I love penguins! (sorry, had to say that)

    Ha. That is so funny. My granddad changed his last name from Li to Lee for that very same reason - Lee is rich HK, Li is poor Mainland.

    I totally agree with you on some of our, er, habits and customs. There's some things that, as a person from there but living in Aus, is quite hard to accept. The way my aunts and uncles tease my cousins about being fat and never going to get a partner is just sad.

    Hello Nick,

    And thank you for sharing your own more Mediterranean cuisines with us :)

    Hello therising,

    Ah yes, it's always so fascinating to see how people's habits or views can seem out of place when moving countries. It must feel so weird and isolating to come to Australia as a Chinese born person and see all these people trying to be dark.

    I find it perpetually funny how, often, Chinese people are trying to be more 'Western' (eyes, nose, skin) and in Western countries the opposite is often true (petite, slim, high pitched voice).

    It is interesting to hear about your own perspective. It sounds like you have quite a blend of different cultural opinions, and I am glad to hear you feel comfortable in your own unique experience. That's wonderful.

    Thanks for posting :)

    James

    2 people found this helpful
  11. james1
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    14 September 2018 in reply to Donte'

    Hello Donte,

    Sorry I somehow completely missed your post.

    Wow that's quite a different perspective but, you know, I think I get what you are saying.

    Perhaps I can kind of explain what I think you are saying, in my own view, and you can let me know if I have interpreted your thoughts correctly?

    My perspective is that my ancestry is no more important than my gender, sexuatily, or my place of birth or my family's social standing or my (lack of) religion at birth. It is what it is when I am born, and I played zero hand in its history.

    I think where I am different to you is that, for better or worse, I've made these things part of my identity. Some time in the last 5 years, I've made them the foundation of who I am, and I guess I have kind of built on top of it.

    That said, I sometimes wonder whether it is a good foundation of who I am. I have a friend who is also an Australian born Chinese and I think he is more like you. He sees all these things as being his family and parents, but not him. He is what he makes himself, not what they made him.

    Thanks for posting that different view. It is something I grapple with often.

    James

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  12. Donte'
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    16 September 2018 in reply to james1

    Thanks James,

    truth is; most of the dreams you'd have aren't yours but someone else's dreams. Dreams of being rich, dreams of being a powerful person, dreams of being respected, accepted, integrated... If you're at peace with yourself, you don't need either of those.

    2 people found this helpful
  13. Donte'
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    16 September 2018 in reply to james1
    People always miss a message.. This inspires me. Beautiful...
  14. Donte'
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    16 September 2018
    Be the best you can be within, and project it like a flashlight onto the world. Trickle your positive vibes down onto others around you who may need it more than you.
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  15. james1
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    17 September 2018 in reply to Donte'

    Hello Donte,

    It is certainly true that many dreams are not mine to begin with. Some I adopt, some I create, others I unknowingly inherit. The difficulty is when we notice them then wonder, "where did this come from?"

    I think many of my friends, and myself included, ask this very question. For me, it applies to my values as well - is this originally mine, or is this my mum's or my Chinese heritage?

    James

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  16. StaticRose51
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    25 September 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi some my family are of mixed race, fifjan and aboriginal sometimes I feel like the resposibility of maintaining my aborginal culture is too much. We are the most disadvantaged and have poor socioeconomic outcomes.

    Struggling to get ahead in an ever changing world is the most stressful and that's the thing. Why we fit in the western ways is there a place for culture?

  17. james1
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    25 September 2018 in reply to StaticRose51

    Hello staticrose51,

    it is good to hear from your perspective as well. While I am not of aboriginal background so it is not something i can truly grasp, i do understand the difficulty and have spoken to other people of aboriginal background who have shared similar thoughts as you.

    One man I spoke to was about 30 years old (5 years ago) and he said it is a very difficult place to be right now for people with aboriginal heritage. Even putting aside the way the media has portrayed people, and the general population's perspective on people, and of course the huge socioeconomic gap... he said culturally it's come to a real turning point. Many of the younger generation are actively trying to break tradition and rejecting old cultural values and customs to adopt western ones, while others are trying to protect tradition. very rarely, he said, were people able to join the two cultures, or even be willing to try.

    My own perspective from a western/chinese cultural combination is that there has to be a way to join the two. that song they used to make us sing in primary school which goes, "we are one, but we are many" is very true I think. There will be things where we are together and share a common identity, yet still there needs to be room to maintain our differences that are significant to us personally. so maybe we do not have to accept everything from either western culture or our heritage, but maybe just the bits that mean most to us as individuals.

    what do you think?

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  18. randomx
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    29 September 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi James.

    Good on you man for standing your ground about your heritage , it's part of what made you who you are and any person worthy of our friendship should have no problems with that anyway right.

    But l know they can be just words and often hard to back and yeah there have been times l've been ashamed of parts of mine. Even my big family . No one has a family the size of mine and the looks l still get to this day when l mention them to someone are still just wtf ???? But you know, like l had anything to do with it , but l guess l'd probably be more ashamed of myself than anything , for even feeling a bit that way about my family.

    And there are things about oz that l'm not proud of either , which again is pretty stupid really because again as if l had anything to do with the way the country has developed or as if l could change it.

    rx

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  19. james1
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    2 October 2018 in reply to randomx

    Hello rx,

    Yeah I hear you. It's a strange concept to be ashamed/proud/whatever of something we had no control over, but I think because our past (as in, our parents and their parents etc.) is often so tied in with our identity, it can often feel like a reflection of ourselves.

    Also, yeah my ex's mother was one of 12 :o now that was scary the first time they had a family gathering and I had to remember everyone's name!!

    James

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  20. StaticRose51
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    26 October 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi James.

    What you said is so true and we must be willing to make the change uni is hard enough for most of us when we need to compete with that as well. Do I have options other than practicing a little of both to appease the elders and then some for more modern friends? This is something I would definitely like to talk more about. I recently had some family come to find me and that has just added a lot more to think about.

    Like you I always have a bit of European heritage and this I practice the everyday stuff/ When it comes to be ethinic theres still a lot there that is raw and beautiful at the same time. I hope to soon find the courage to express myself due to some very special friends of mine.

    I think right now if I put my heart into my self-expression than there must be something to come out of it. I have some am leaving t have a coffee and go to enjoy the last of the suns warmth. xxxxx

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  21. james1
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    30 October 2018 in reply to StaticRose51

    Hello staticrose,

    Thanks for responding to me.

    It's interesting that you use the word "appease" when talking about practicing both cultures. I also often do things to appease my two cultures and when it's not enough for them, I feel quite frustrated. I'm not sure if the same happens for you?

    I wonder if there's a different way to approach this. Questions that I ask myself are: am I appeasing my own two cultural sides or others? How would I appease myself holistically?

    I don't have the answers, but I feel like when I do one or the other, I'm being untrue to myself, somehow. But I don't know how to do differently...

    Anyway, self-expression is definitely what I'm kind of trying to talk about. Nice to hear your perspective, thank you!

    James

    2 people found this helpful
  22. Anuj Poudel
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    2 November 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi James,

    You told that poverty was your past heritage. That's not only your past. There are lots of people who are below poverty line till the date.

    See, I am also from a small city where there was no infrastructures available. People should have to depend upon the primitive way for living their daily lives. It will be so hard after moving to a city to adjust yourself. The people of my country still believes in superstition. I have grown up in such a community where people are so much superstitious that make me to believe in superstition in some way. However, I am not that superstitious though. Peoples use to go to witch doctor instead of hospitals and clinic because they are too much superstitious.
    However, growing in such a community, I don't have any issue about my heritage. That was my past and I don't have any options at that time. But now, when I came to know that my heritage was that much superstitious, I think that's to bad to follow in 21st century, when I came across some superstitious thing, I simply ignore it.

    People of my country are so superstitious that if a black cat crosses the road, people will choose an alternative way to reach their destination.
    Thanks,

  23. james1
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    5 November 2018 in reply to Anuj Poudel

    Hello Anuj,

    Welcome to the forums and thank you very much for your thoughts.

    It is very interesting to hear about your own heritage and how you have come to make your own thoughts about what is going to be a part of your identity as you move forward in life. I think that is certainly something that we all face and deal with as we start to look at our heritage and question the bits that don't make sense to us. It's certainly interesting - is this something that you have been doing for a while and questioning parts of your heritage which you don't believe in anymore?

    James

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