Am I a Secondary Citizen?

culture, differences, understanding, yan maschke, leadership coaching, cleveland ohio

“You are always a secondary citizen in the U.S.”

A statement from my brother Ping (who is 12 years older) sent me to deep contemplation during my annual family visit to China last December. 

I came from China to the U.S. for graduate studies 23 years ago. I enjoyed a 20-year successful corporate career learning to run global businesses and I particularly love serving clients in my own strategy & leadership advisory practice today. My husband, daughter and I live in Cleveland Ohio which has become my “home away from home”. I have a blessed life, and I feel very comfortable living on the “land of the free, home of the brave”. 

Maybe it’s precisely the large contrast between my perception and his statement that sent my brain to such a disoriented state.

It wasn’t a question or invitation for discussion. It was simply a statement. A conclusion. A judgement. One with unyielding certainty.

My flight back to the U.S. and many of the ensuing days involved contemplation of a few questions.

1. Am I a secondary citizen in the US?

I have never viewed myself in that way. 

It was my love of learning and curiosity in the world that brought me to the west. I have tremendous drive and I seek to impact the world. Yes I knew I was different, but I don’t have a self-limiting belief that I am categorically “less” just because I was a foreigner (and later an immigrant). 

My brother said that even if I don’t feel like a secondary citizen, that’s how Americans would see me. 

Could that be the case?  Am I simply too naive to realize it?

But I find myself refusing to think that way

I believe we create our own world. Our mindset and inner beliefs create our external reality

If I had chosen a victim mindset, a mindset of “less” or “inferiority”, my life would have manifested just like that. 

I am proud of my optimist mindset, my view of self, others, and the world.

2. Why does my brother have his perception and feel so sure about it?

Ping said that he read articles written by returning Chinese (after some education and/or work experience in the U.S. or other western countries), and they consistently shared the opinion that they find it difficult to assimilate in the west.

Maybe recent media and cross-border political maneuvering contributed to this perception?

Maybe other factors?

My brother has never visited the U.S. What’s intriguing to me is how sure he was when he made his judgement. 

3. How often do we make less-than-grounded judgments of people or things that are less familiar to us? How do these conscious and unconscious  judgments impact our world? 

There will always be differences between different cultures and identify groups. We each have the ability (and in my opinion, responsibility) to help bridge that differences, if we care to, dare to, and choose to.

I will be visiting my parents and siblings in China again later this year. I would like to bring up this topic again with my brother Ping. 

My goal is not to argue, to defend, or to convince . I would like to foster understanding and explore perspectives.

What suggestions do you have for me as I anticipate that conversation?