Becoming “Chinese”: The Problem of Identity in Missions

In China, I have learned that I am especially indistinct. I am an Asian American and on most days, I am able to walk the streets of China as an insider because I don’t look any different than the masses. As I pass by, the fruit cart lady will keep shouting out the day’s deals, the newsstand guy will keep throwing watermelon seed shells on the ground, and customers of the local noodle shop will keep focusing on the steaming bowls in front of them. But, the veneer of me being a native Chinese person is fragile and so easily pierced. All I need to do is speak and my improper tonal inflections give me away. Similarly, the mere presence of my three children at my side causes the hustle and bustle around us to cease and the attention to fall conspicuously on us. The one-child policy makes two children rare, and three a spectacle – a clear reason to doubt their initial impression of me as a native Chinese person.