My name is Laura 庆中 Weatherbee. My driver's license reads Laura Hing-Chung Weatherbee. But to be clear, Hing-Chung is not actually my middle name. It is a crude approximation of my name using the Western alphabet. 庆中 is written using Chinese characters, and the pronunciation is actually a bit more like Hing-Jong or Hing-Zhong. Chinese characters are the oldest continuously used writing system in the world, and Chinese is the native language of my mother, 曾力成 (Tsang Lik-Shing) who was born in Hong-Kong and grew up speaking Cantonese.
庆中 means "Celebrate China" in Mandarin, and for a long time I felt a bit short-changed by the name. You see my older sister Lisa's middle name is 韋慶華 (Hing-Wah), which translates to "Cream of the Crop". Seems like the better option, don't you think? Growing up in suburban Minnesota amongst mostly white people, the idea of "celebrating China" was not at the forefront of my mind. If anything, my Chinese heritage was something I felt rather embarrassed about. For the most part, people were friendly and curious, though sometimes ignorant. "You must be from China." someone might say. "No, actually, I was born in New Jersey." And occasionally there was hurtful teasing. I remember walking towards my seat on the bus one day as a boy pulled the corners of his eyes into little slants, mockingly chanting nonsense words "ching chong ching chong" as I passed.
But for me, most hurtful were the messages I internalized from the media and pop culture surrounding me. When it comes to American movies and TV shows from the 1980's, one thing was pretty clear: Asian kids are not cool. They are big nerds with thick glasses and thicker accents. There is one particular character from the 1984 movie "16 Candles" that I found particularly humiliating - a foreign exchange student named "Long Duk Dong". His thick accent is the butt of every joke, and a gong plays each time he enters the scene. Characters like these made me feel ashamed to be Asian.
For years growing up I wanted to distance myself from the embarrassing stereotype of a nerdy Asian loser. I wanted to be anything but. I thought maybe I could pass for Mexican, and studied Spanish. I studied Hebrew in college at Cornell University in part because a shopkeeper in Israel said "Shalom" to me once. But eventually I started to embrace my Asian heritage. I joined a dance group in college with a bunch of other Asian girls, and we bonded over similar experiences growing up. I started to realize there are a lot of other people like me in the world.
Today I couldn't be more proud of my Chinese heritage. I'm currently studying acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and I am so awed and inspired by the rich culture of China. There is a wealth of art, history and knowledge to discover and share. I am proud to be Asian, to celebrate my culture and the rich legacy of my motherland. We have so much to learn from each other. I understand now that what makes me different also makes me special and unique. Hing-Chung is no longer my embarrassing middle name. 庆中 is my destiny.