I’ve always been quite fond of my name—Iris. My mother’s decision to name me after the rainbow goddess turned out to be fitting for the years to come as I grew up between a clash of cultures and identities. The different colors of what I had seen, felt and experienced shaped who I am today.
Red stripes on the American flag waved at a younger me when I arrived in New York. Having grown up in China and stepping on American soil for the first time in forever, the different designs of red on the flag, though proving to be unfamiliar, sparked excitement within me. A strong desire to make the most out of this new life seized my young heart, and I wanted nothing more than to be part of what this flag stood for. How I was going to achieve that, I didn’t know.
Orange peels scattered across the lunch table of my school cafeteria were all a result of me. When I first opened the lunch box that my mother had packed for me, a strong scent of my family’s traditional food wafted across the table, drawing some looks. This incident was when I first became aware of the differences between me and what I believed to be fitting for the country I now resided in. Perhaps the looks from my fellow classmates were simply stares of benevolent curiosity. Nevertheless, my younger self did not understand this, and I rejected the lunch my mother made for me and crammed my mouth with oranges. After all, I wanted to be like my classmates—and they snacked on oranges all the time.
Yellow skin stared back from the mirror day by day as I grew increasingly fascinated by the differences between me and the American children in my town. To me, my appearance, family, food and accent were all differences that obstructed me from what I perceived as perfection. I vowed to myself that I would erase these differences, that I would master the craft of assimilation. I thought that once I achieved that, I would be perfect and happy.
Green grass crunched beneath my feet as I strode across a field with the friends I held so dear to me. I clearly remember that day: the birds were chirping, the cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom, the sky was so clear and I was so at peace. They were such a beautiful blend of people, many of them defying my assumptions. Despite my initial generalizations about their identities, I learned that they were so colorful and full of stories. I listened to them, breathing in the spring air as their blend of unique voices and languages reverberated throughout the atmosphere. They have such a rich array of backgrounds and hold a deep bond with their families and history. Then, my dear friends turned towards me and asked me about my background, family and history. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I knew nothing. Once so colorful, I suppressed myself until my identity grayed out. I had no clue about my family history and ancestry. I never bothered to partake in the traditions of my culture or explore the ones of others. I couldn’t even speak the tongue of the land I grew up in. I frowned as a dark realization dawned upon me: what was the point of erasing myself?
Blue and white porcelain ran underneath my fingers as I examined the designs I brushed onto the pot with blue glaze. I chuckled, for they were so incredibly ugly, but that was okay. Qing Hua pottery was only the start. Next is relearning my mother tongue. There are so many other aspects of my identity that I have yet to discover and rediscover. This time, I vowed to myself that I would explore all parts of my culture and identity I’m curious about and take back the years that I have lost suppressing my identity.
Purple, at least to me, represents mystery, growth and creativity. As the people around me and I continue to absorb more colors, I’m sure our identities will grow in the most mesmerizing ways.