Your book saved my life – or, at least, half of it.
Let me explain. My world shifted when I was thirteen. My family moved from a town with a strong Asian presence to one in Texas, where, suddenly, my culture was an oddity. While I was still surrounded by firm American roots, I was detached from the Taiwanese aspects I’d always been around – the closest here was Panda Express. Because of my cultural isolation, I became ashamed of my culture; now, I only had my family as a reminder of my heritage. In this vein, I floated for a long few years, unable to connect with anyone on a cultural level. At this point, I was also beginning to flirt with the idea of cultural disassociation – to me, being Taiwanese wasn’t worth it.
I came across your book on accident. It was set on the library’s “Cultural Journeys” display, and I picked it up on a whim. Slouched in the beanbag against the paneled windows, flipping through your novel, it was one of the first times since the move that I didn’t feel the label of FOREIGNER across my forehead.
Grace, your writing helped me to revitalize the pieces of Taiwanese culture that had been tucked away. Pacy, the main character, described the facets of her culture, from specialized Chinese cuisine to the stories of being fresh off the boat, and it was a jolt of life to a long-forgotten memory. When she mentioned the traditions of Chinese New Year, I felt my lips involuntarily curl into a smile; my family did the exact same thing. So many of Pacy’s cultural adventures (or rather, misadventures) I’d experienced in one way or another, that the kinship I felt to this spunky, mischievous girl rocked me to my core; it was like I was reading a story of my own life.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Pacy loves art. Grace, when I read that she wanted to become an author and illustrator, it meant more to me than you could possibly know. Like Pacy, I’ve found my passions in liberal arts, except I aspire to pursue creative writing. The problem, though, is the age-old struggle I’ve had with my parents, where they worry about a limited future and I worry about sacrificing my happiness for a major that I hate. For so long, all the other Asians that I knew eagerly dove into the STEM field – but I have always hid from science fairs and dreaded the winding problems of calculus. Your book gave me a new strength in myself. If Pacy – as a fourth grader – could be so determinedly set in her goals, then I could have the confidence to pave my life the way I wanted it to.
Pacy has two names – her Chinese one, and her English one of Grace. She lives two identities, has two cultural perspectives just as I do. At school, I use my “American” name instead of the one of my birth: Guanyi because for so long I was afraid that, to be Guanyi, I’d have to compromise being Tiffany. After following alongside Pacy, I’ve learned that it’s possible to be both, figuring out a cultural identity that fits me best, growing up Taiwanese in an American society.
Like Pacy, I found that I am the sum of both of my cultures.
Along the way, your book has showed me that there’s no magic formula for cultural balance. Like Pacy, I’ll have to figure it out piece by piece, puzzling together my identity as a Taiwanese American without being Taiwanese or American.
And I find that that’s okay too.