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Clearing Out

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

Dear Asian Youth,

I was cleaning out my room the other day, taking down old photos and putting away old memories that had faded with time, when a phrase that was said to me as a child came to mind:

“Don’t clean out your house during the New Year, you’ll sweep out your good luck.”

Sometimes I think this phrase has a deeper meaning that goes beyond just a New Year's saying. Something deeply rooted in American culture is the idea of out with the old, in with the new. Always wanting to do away with what was for what will be. The idea of the fresh start, a new beginning, a new horizon. But in doing so, what do we lose?

Many families that came to the U.S. in the last 50 years were fleeing war, poverty, and instability in hopes of a better life. They arrived and wanted to embrace the newly found culture here. Chasing the so-called “American Dream.” Getting an education, finding a job, and being able to be more than they were in their home country—that was the goal.

Many of my older relatives bought into this narrative. Being first generation, many of them embraced the idea of being all American. Some of them had fled war and poverty, and viewed America as a forward-thinking progressive nation. A place where you can work hard, get an education, and move up in society. Many of them wanted to forget the old country. Forget the pain, the trauma, for they had found a better place. Here.

For them it was about a fresh start. A new beginning. Out with the old, in with the new.

For many of my relatives, the old was the home country. The old was the village in which my grandparents came from. The old was the traditions, and the ways of thinking from there. The new was America, the new was being able to buy a home and get an education. The new was embracing American culture, and life.

Like the broom that may accidentally sweep out your good luck if you clean on New Year's Day, this pursuit of new horizons swept away cultural connections and cultural roots. In hopes of finding something better in this country, we swept away what rooted us in the last.

I think about this when I see my cousins struggle to use chopsticks, or refuse to eat certain Chinese foods. I think about this when I see the language barrier between many of my elders who grew up in China and the younger generations like myself who grew up here.

In this pursuit of a better life, in this pursuit of new horizons and better opportunities, in this supposed chase for the American Dream what was lost?

- Chris Fong Chew

Cover Photo Source: Omnia, University of Pennsylvania


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