Ethnicity and Identity

The following is an article that I wrote for a website that focuses on the issues facing Chinese immigrants and their descendants.

From my own experience, most 2nd generation Chinese have a sense of the identity crisis. For example, they do not know if they consider themselves Chinese or American or both or neither. Most seem to feel that their identity lies somewhere in between, in a purgatory type of space, but there are a few who consider themselves to be completely one or the other. Of course, there is no right answer, everyone has to figure this out for themselves.

What I think can help the process is to understand that there is a difference between ethnicity and identity. This might sound obvious, but I feel that many people do not treat them as separate concepts although they understand their separate meanings. For example, White Americans are from Europe right? So why are they considered Americans, but not Europeans? The answer is simple, they are ethnically European, but culturally American. Their identity is American. I suspect the same phenomenon will happen with other races as well, especially if they live in an immigrant country such as the United States.

The reason why people mix the concepts of ethnicity and identity is because for most people, they happen to be the same. For example, most ethnically Chinese people identify themselves as Chinese. But once the world becomes even more international, there will be more ethnically Chinese people who identity themselves as German, Russian, Mexican, Canadian etc. In other words, the smaller the world becomes, the more variability in combinations we will see between ethnicity and identity.

So for those of you who are struggling to figure out who you are, keep in mind that your identity is what is in your head and not in your blood.