Navel Gazing

It's 2017. I am now married. I left New York almost two years ago with my wife. I now live in Switzerland.

Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America. He beat Hillary Clinton last year, electorally but not popularily.

It feels like the system was hacked somehow.

A part of me yearns to go back to New York. But one by one people I used to know there have also left. The city feels a bit hollowed out now. Perhaps what I yearn for is not New York but the idea of it.

A teeming metropolis. A place where the future was being built. Friends who flitted in and out. Like one big college dormitory. The macro and the micro, both large and essential. All of us looking for and optimistic about what lies ahead.

Perhaps that is a feature that belongs to young adults, one that I no longer am able to call myself. I have rounded squarely into a grown adult. My age technically rounds up to 40 now. I have had my time in the sun as a young adult.

To have loved and lost is better than to never have loved at all. ("Try it," snapped Agent K.)


In Switzerland there are four official languages: Swiss-German, French, Italian, and Romansh. It is a confederation more than a nation. As far as I can tell, it works. The country is modern, wealthy, efficient, and has preserved its history.

I really admire the country.

But it's difficult for me to integrate. Language is of course a big reason. English is taught in schools but not widely spoken. The older native Swiss will not speak it. Signs and official government communication are in one of the official languages depending on where you live. So is the art and culture.

Some days I yearn to be back in an environment which I have mastered. But I am no longer a young adult, and many of my friends in New York during the heydays have melted away, and...

Who am I?

Since Donald Trump has become President, I have felt less American. My image of America has shimmered from a land where I felt relentlessly motivated to prove myself to a land where such a relentlessness feels like folly. For large swaths of the population will never accept me, if not obliquely then passively. Call it racism or stereotyping or taking character shortcuts in making judgments.

I call it human nature.

We're all guilty of it.

You can't legislate someone into accepting you atavistically.

I have expended the majority of my life thus far trying to integrate as an American, only to reach a sort of invisible impasse that the Trump presidency has unveiled. In all respects I can out-white most white guys... unless someone lays an eye on me.

But do not mistake this for a pity party. America was (is, has been) immaculate to me. I have been given enough opportunities to reach comfortable white-collar level middle-class. Any discrimination that I have encountered thus far have either been too brief to remember or too invisible to detect. Maybe, maybe, I've had to put in 110% when 100% would have been suffice, or maybe I've been rejected more often than a white male peer. There's no way to quantify that, nor is my feeling strong enough to insist on it, nor have I been kept away from achieving a level of wealth and happiness that I felt was owed to me. Maybe I've had to be grittier to get here, but that seems like a good thing rather than a bad thing.

I am equipped with many more modes of being. I have accumulated soft-skills to acclimate and persevere that those with simpler lives probably never needed to develop.

So. I love America.

But am I American?

I was born in Taiwan to Taiwanese parents. I am ethnically Chinese. I speak Chinese. I read and write some but not enough. In the island and in the mainland I can belong without effort. And upon discovery that I have an American passport and wield English with native fluency, I am almost accorded a merit badge.

There is almost no question I am more fluidly accepted in Asia.

Complexity: Taiwan's economy has stagnated while China's is speeding ahead with historic momentum. Informal estimates have put over 1 million Taiwanese working in China where the wages are substantially higher and the opportunities substantially greater. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is that Taiwan and China are at odds with one another. Technically.

Only an ideologue or a fool would dispute that with China's population and momentum and determination, there is little probability of Taiwan coming out ahead in this cold-ish war, which might easily last another hundred years.

So am I Chinese? Or Taiwanese?

Am I Swiss? Could I be? Peut-être, si j'apprends mes leçons de français avec plus d'urgence. Mais je n'ai pas grandi dans cette culture. Ma consommation de médias est toujours synchronisée avec les États-Unis. Je ne le pense pas peut changer.

Je suis un Américain. 我是美國人.

I think.

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