Say Something in Chinese

Jennifer Duann Fultz reconnects with her cradle language

When I was very young, I would oblige by commenting on the weather or their outfit, but I eventually got tired of feeling like a zoo animal and learned to respond with, "Something in Chinese," which usually made it clear that I was not interested in continuing the conversation. I have only recently begun unpacking some of the resentment and confusion I felt toward my cradle language.

My parents settled in the Midwest among a community of highly educated immigrant Chinese professionals. We attended a Chinese church and most of the kids I grew up with could speak a smattering of Mandarin, Cantonese or Taiwanese. But in those days there were no trendy Mandarin immersion schools or Mandarin-speaking kids shows, so our cradle language was quickly subsumed by English. I dutifully went to Chinese school two hours a week from first grade through middle school, but I resented the extra class time and homework. Despite my  attitude, I clinched the speech competition year after year, which I sometimes suspect was due to my deeply entrenched study habits rather than any latent gift for gab. I outperformed my peers linguistically overall, to the delight of my parents and their Chinese friends. "Wah, hao bang, ah! Your Mandarin is so good!" they cooed, and I would do a few more verbal backflips in response to their applause.


No More Hiding

A Chinese New Year’s lesson on embracing your identity – Jennifer Duann Fultz

You would think it would be hard to forget that I’m not white. I’m a Chinese-American woman, born, raised and educated in the Midwest. I was one of maybe a dozen Asian students in my high school graduating class of 400. I didn’t have a single Asian(-American) teacher until I was in college, and then they were all Chinese language instructors. My Master of Education program had exactly three students of color and I was, of course, the only Asian.