By Patricia Tang
When I was little, my mom bought a jade bangle.
I remember thinking that it was perhaps far too expensive for a small piece of rock. (Good jade costs more than your Cartier bracelets, for reference….)
I still remember the lengths we went to in order to pick out that piece of jade: we went to China, drove for hours, stopped in a little shop, and my mom picked through what I imagined were hundreds and hundreds of pieces of jadeite before settling on one bracelet.
And, what really struck me about her jade bangle: she couldn’t take it off.
I remember she tried, many times. Soap and water usually does the trick, as does showering for a long time and sliding it off when your arm and the stone are both wet. Neither worked. Maybe she stopped trying to take it off anymore. I don’t know.
Last year, my grandmother gave me a jade bangle. She told me to wear it every single day so that I could yield all the great benefits of wearing jade: good luck, good health, all that.
I can take off my jade bangle.
I don’t wear it every day. I wear it when I feel comfortable wearing it...a fairly undefined parameter. All I know is that sometimes I trade in my jadeite for gold jewelry, usually when I feel uncomfortable wearing my jade.
In this, the jade bangle represents, for me, my cultural identity. I’m Chinese-American, holding both Chinese and American cultures dear to my heart. But, in America, sometimes I don’t feel comfortable expressing my cultural heritage. In an environment of a million half-assed “ni hao”s and maybe a hundred thousand “where are you really from”s, sometimes I find myself completely lost. Sometimes I feel that I have to prove that I’m not “nerdy” or “FOB-y” or “lame” just because I’m Asian.
And, in that, style is often my biggest tool. By trading in my jadeite for gold and silver Western-style jewelry, I’m putting on the suit of armor against White America that is Western style. With my stacks and stacks of coin necklaces, I’m saying to the world that I’m not “different.”
But, is being “different” really that bad?
The thing is, I can take off my jade bangle. My mom can’t. That’s just something that I can’t really change. It’s a luxury, assimilation. It’s something that second-generation Asian-Americans can have, but first-generation Asian-Americans will never find it. Even though my parents might have posh “international” accents now after listening to 30-some years of British English on BBC radio and learning, there’s still a twinge of a Chinese accent there. That’s what makes them “different.”
When I see Asian immigrants being made fun of in the media for their accents and being called “FOBs,” I sometimes feel thankful that I am able to take off my jade bangle. “I don’t feel any different,” I tell myself. But, despite it all, I’m not going to live life without my jade bangle on. I refuse to betray my cultural identity and assimilate to White America to avoid feeling “different.” My surname, “Tang,” might just be an exotic Chinese word to White America. But, to me, it’s 汤. It’s a symbol of the fact that my ancestors are far more interesting and powerful than what White America might want to think. It’s a symbol of my heritage, of the old Shang Dynasty, of my family that has given me everything. I’m never going to throw that away.
I should wear my jade bangle every day. I’m trying.
I just need to convince myself that gold looks great with green.