Stranger At Home

January 8th, 2009

In the "Fruit of the Mandarins," Marcy Nicks Moody '05 describes an unshakable feeling of homesickness during her yearlong stay in Shanghai (Alumni P.O.V., November/December). She attributes this feeling to her physical appearance, which caused her to stick out like a sore thumb: "Though being ogled, considered strange, and presumed lost happens to me regularly here, for some reason I am still not used to it. It occurs to me only after the fact that these things happen because I am foreign here."

I couldn't help but think about my childhood in the Midwest, where I experienced the exact same feelings. The difference, however, is that I wasn't foreign-born. Yet on a daily basis, others stared, pointed, or even jeered because of my Chinese features, as if I were strange, out-of-place, and not deserving to be there.

As recently as a year ago, I had just finished speaking at a public event when a woman approached to compliment me on my "impeccable English." Had I not been so dumbfounded by her statement, I might have responded, "Thanks, with a little work on your accent, your English won't be that bad, either."

In her essay, Moody also writes, "That seems to be a fixture of my life in Shanghai: As long as I stay here, I will be foreign. Somehow, though, when I am observed this way, the feeling is newly bizarre and disorienting. Then I remember that the same thing happened the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that. But that doesn't make the experience itself easier, this sense of being a stranger in my own backyard."

For a taste of my experience you might replace Shanghai with the name of any American city. At Brown, my freshman-year roommate asked me what it was like to grow up Chinese American. I asked him to imagine coming of age in a completely foreign culture in which he looked very different from everyone else, a difference in appearance that triggers a disdainful, sometimes hostile, reaction. He simply couldn't relate. Marcy Nicks Moody describes this perspective surprisingly well. Thank you for answering his question after eighteen years.

David Shih '95
Columbia, Md.

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January/February 2009