Cosmetically Local, Culturally Expat

Born and raised by in Canada, Miranda Lin struggles with identity in the land of her ancestors:

I know I look Chinese. Before I came to China, I thought it was because I was Chinese. It had never occurred to me that holding a foreign passport disqualified me from that birthright. But for Chinese people—those whose government papers match their face—race, language, culture, and nationality are inextricably intertwined. … Lacking the necessary “Chinese” mix made me as foreign, and possibly even more alien, than the blond-haired, blue-eyed creatures instantly recognized as “other.”

Ironically, just as my Chinese looks cause much consternation among locals, it causes indifference among the countrymen I psychically reach for. I disappear in the crowd: just another Chinese face in the sea of presumed strangers. The camaraderie shared among foreigners—the exchanges of knowing glances or sympathetic smiles that say, “I feel the same way; I’m there with you”—eludes me. Instead, with over-enunciated enthusiasm, I have repeatedly been told, “Your English is so good.”