Updated: Jul 10
| This is the 78th story of Our Life Logs |
I think the hardest question for me to answer is also one of the simplest: “Where are you from?”
I often find myself pausing before replying, contemplating what would be the correct answer to give depending on the setting we are in. Do I give the shorter version which simply involves two continents and five different ethnicities? Or, should I go with the longer version?
The truth is, wherever we are from or have been to, it is not as important as who we are as a person. Life can be complicated, and frustrating sometimes, but we should all find ways to love ourselves and enjoy the life we live.
Here is how everything came together for me:
My journey started in 1992. I was born in the Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, California. My parents were completely opposite from each other: Dad, from Massachusetts and a doctor specializing in communicable diseases, and Mom, from California, with an affinity for art and owner of a craft and hobbies store. Their love brought together two Chinese, Hawaiian, English, Irish, Scandinavian kids, my older brother and me. Chinese and Hawaiian are from my mom’s side, and the rest from my dad’s. No one can ever guess my race and yes, I often get mistaken for Mexican.
Before I turned one year old, my parents packed my brother, me, and our entire livelihood in order to move to the other side of the world. Dad received an offer for a position in Cairo, Egypt, so there we went.
There is a huge British community in Egypt. For the years we stayed there, I attended a British primary school, which had me speaking with a British accent, eating British “crisps”, watching S-Club 7 (an English pop group), and being a Rainbow Girlguide (the British version of Girl Scouts). Everything up to that point in my life was living and breathing British culture, littered with Arab and Muslim customs and surroundings, and a little taste of America when Mom made Kraft Mac & Cheese on the rare Saturday occasion when we behaved and didn’t destroy the house.
When I turned seven, there came the news of a big family move, not to another house or another city—but to Brazil. What?! I had no idea what to expect.
So there I was, an innocent, seven-year-old little girl, starting her first day at an international school in Brazil called American School of Brasilia. Being the “new girl” in class was intimidating. Rumor had it that a girl was going to lock me in the bathroom, and I was terrified. I remember hiding myself and crying. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of all the bullying I was about to experience.
Gradually, I learned that being the new face might start on the wrong foot, but I’d settle in the end. I finally made myself in Brazil. The British culture I carried with me was cool, but now I officially wanted to stay in Brazil. Funny enough, I was considered super American in my school, perhaps because of my parents’ background. In reality, I had barely even lived in America and knew nothing about its culture. But then, who as a child wants to feel like they aren’t part of the group? I assimilated and took anything that was remotely given to me to represent whatever culture that was liked and accepted at the time. I learned to adapt, and to basically, survive.
As a young child, I grew to be stronger and more confident in my own little world. I felt things were settling down.
Then came the day when I received one of the most devastating news of my life: we are moving again. This time we were going “home” – to the United States.
I attended a public high school in a small town called Cape Cod, about one and half hours of drive outside of Boston, with a population of about 100,000. The first impression I had on my first day as a freshman was this scene: tater tots and a boy running up to a trash bin to vomit it in. Ah, America.
From then on, I spent four years of some of the darkest moments of my life. Loneliness is the only word I can really describe how I felt. I was always reminded, whether directly or behind my back, that I was not welcome in this place. I was told a few times that I “needed to go back to my country.” But isn’t this my country? If I ever did feel like talking about Egypt or Brazil or anything that occurred in my life overseas, I would get shut down immediately and told to stop bragging about my “glamorous” childhood. I eventually got connected with some great people, and found one who shared similar experiences and could understand what I was going through.
After the torturing years of high school, I went on to attend college in West Lafayette, Indiana where I felt even more isolated. The patterns of feeling like the black sheep, the outsider, had drained me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I dreamed of having neighborhood friends I had spent my entire childhood with, one home that I grew up in, grandparents that were part of my weekly routine, and a time in my life where I was not being asked if I was adopted or not. I had none of those things that I desired. Because of all the bullying and isolation that my childhood of cultural mess had brought me, I continually labelled my past as “ugly” and masked it as much as I could.
For a long while, I was blinded to see who I really was. I just wanted people to like me and accept me, which apparently seemed too much to ask at the time. I was lost, yearning to be elsewhere in order to escape.
When I reached my 20s, I found myself living in London and Miami, and eventually landing where I live now: Paris.
Maybe it’s with the age, or perhaps it was with the experiences I had along the way, or the people I have met, or all those horrific boyfriend choices I made (no kidding), but I have now arrived at that point in my life that I never thought I would reach: I love who I am, unapologetically.
Yes, I am an outsider, and I always will be, but I am okay with that now. My childhood was abnormal and a whirlwind, but hey, that makes me the person who I am, and I wouldn’t exchange that with anyone. All those little bits of culture that I picked up from other countries, those that I tried to exaggerate or suppress in order to “fit in” with the crowd I was with at the time, have flown away. I just let all my colors show, simple.
Moving around a lot as a young child is not easy. Changing countries, continents, culture, language, ways of dressing, how to greet people, how loud you speak, and what holidays you celebrate, with literally every single aspect of your life being modified and then completely scrutinized at another place, could be overwhelming. When you put aside all the “glamorous” aspects of growing up in exotic places, what you really see is the feeling of being lost, lacking and wanting an identity for yourself to hold onto.
Growing up I was constantly in a battle with myself. I hated myself for having a mixture of cultural backgrounds which made me unwelcomed in many circumstances. Down deep in my heart I knew I was a good person with a special character, but I didn’t know how to formulate that to something positive and lovable. Looking back at it now, I see that even with just a little taste of hope for ourselves, we do arrive somewhere. You don’t stay lost forever elsewhere.
This is the story of Maya Hatch
Maya was born in San Francisco, California, and grew up in Egypt, Brazil, and then back in the United States. She recently got her Master’s Degree in Luxury Brand Management and currently resides and works in Paris. Growing up ashamed of being a mixed-race kid as well as having various cultural backgrounds, she has learned to accept that what makes her different is what makes her special. Maya’s favorite food is Brazilian, and her next vacation destination is Greece.
This story first touched our hearts on April 17, 2018.
| Writer: Maya Hatch | Editor: Manqing Jin |