The last time I was in San Francisco was the summer before my senior year in high school. That was 5 years ago. And Chinatown is still exactly how I remembered it. The same sights (BBQ ducks hanging in the window), the same smells (buns fresh out of the steamer), and the same sounds (not a word of English).
What fascinates me about cities is how ethnic enclaves are able to preserve the authenticity of its culture and environment, literally replicating the sights, smells, and sounds of the motherland. As I walked through Chinatown, I felt like I was on the other side of the world in Guangzhou and a foreigner again trying hard not to stand out with my large camera.
I think many Asian Americans (and other ethnic Americans) struggle with their identity. At least I know I do. There are still places in America where people do not identify me as “American” and when I visit China, I am clearly spotted as a foreigner. That’s why these cultural enclaves are so important to me. I can be in my home country and travel a few miles (or a few cities if I’m not in a metro area) to be completely immersed in the culture I grew up in, to be immersed in something familiar.
Being in Chinatown made me happy. I realized how blessed I am to be a citizen of a great country that allows me to embrace my background and my heritage. I’m glad these cultural pockets exist and thrive because they are a testament to our diverse nation… and they serve as reliable places for good dim sum.
Have you ever struggled with your identity? What do you do to find comfort or familiarity?