I've spent a lot of time thinking about my cultural identity and what it exactly is. To call myself Taiwanese would be legally correct considering I was born there, but culturally there simply lacks a connection where I feel completely rooted, familiar, and at home. However, to call myself Asian American would also be somewhat of a misnomer, because although I spent the most formative years of my childhood in the States, integrating into and identifying with the dominant culture from the ages three to eight, ultimately I'm not an American citizen and I feel like a fraud when attempting to identify myself as such.

My name is Margot Lin, also known as Pei-Yu Lin on my passport. To give some background, I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved to the States at the age of three as a dependent under my mother's student visa. She was here as a graduate student working towards her Ph.D., and together she, my sister, and I lived in Lawrence, Kansas with my father occasionally traveling from Taiwan to visit us. Growing up in the Midwest without extended family or a larger Asian community, I realized that my knowledge of my cultural heritage was heavily filtered through a Western lens, largely informed by my surrounding environment and the few Asian people around me. For instance, the first time I learned about the Chinese zodiac was from the red and yellow paper placemat at our town’s local Chinese buffet—it was there that my mother’s grad school friends taught me how to fold the disposable chopstick wrapper into a holder, and I bore that knowledge as proud evidence of being "authentically" Asian American. The truth was, I had no recollection of my birthplace, I wasn't able to speak or understand Mandarin, and my cultural ties to my heritage were practically non-existent. It wasn’t until I moved back to Taiwan and started learning about the culture, history, and literature during formal education that I was able to understand where I came from and gained an appreciation for that aspect of my identity.

Looking back, there's a clear difference in how I regard my identity as an Asian American post-Taiwan move versus before. The thing is, my mother had taught me to be proud of my culture and to not be ashamed of it, but all I could comprehend was the immediate world around me. When you grow up as a minority within a larger, dominant culture, you’re taught to assimilate and minimize your differences as a form of self-preservation—on top of the pressure to conform, I had difficulty relating to my mother's own values and beliefs because I never got to experience the culture and traditions that shaped her in the first place. My Chinese identity wasn't a big part of me, because there wasn't much to inform it. But by moving back to Taiwan, gaining a cultural identity, and relearning my mother tongue, I realized that it was possible to strike a balance between my two identities, a middle ground of sorts, where I feel proud of my cultural heritage while being comfortable in my surroundings.

My thesis is a celebration of the intersection between two cultures, a reclamation of identity and visual representation of what feels authentic to me.


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