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Hi, my name is Xin

I live a double life. By day, I’m Anthony Zhang: a chronically tired, slightly awkward human being who should probably stop watching corgi videos and get to Starbucks to finish an IA or something. By night, I’m… still Anthony Zhang, just a little more caffeinated, a little more sleep deprived. The other guy? He lives almost exclusively tucked in piles of paperwork and between the tripped-over syllables hesitantly offered by teachers calling roll on the first day of school. The only time he’s allowed to have his moment is when I’m forced to sign “Xin Zhang” on official documents, momentarily consigning “Anthony” to the space between the parenthesis.

Personally, I’m glad that “Xin” is forced to stay there–though if I had my way he’d go away altogether. Names are more than just a string of letters we stick onto things for the sake of convenience. Instead, they often become so intertwined with our identities that when we see or hear the name of someone we know, that simple sequence of sounds often calls to mind our memories with, feelings about and ideas of that person as a whole. My point is, those syllables should carry quite a bit of weight, so you can imagine the weird disconnect I feel when I have to go by “Xin” when I’ve already invested my entire identity into “Anthony.”

On top of that, though, names can also entail our family histories as well as our cultural histories. In my case, my Chinese name serves as a reminder of my immigrant background, including my parents’ pursuit of the American Dream and all that jazz. I was born shortly before we moved to the States in search for business opportunities. Reflecting that, my Chinese name is a compound character made up of the same three components: the character for “gold”, not exactly subtle. While I appreciate the sentiment behind my name, I hardly identify with the cultural background it’s tied to. Over the course of elementary school, the fact that I was from a different culture was sometimes painfully obvious, from the kid in first grade who insisted on calling me “Chinese boy” to the fuzzy green pajamas my parents made me wear because they weren’t up to date with the latest trends in American third grade fashion. By middle school, I was making semi-conscious efforts to imitate the way my more Americanized peers spoke, picking up their slang and listening to myself during conversations to make sure I sounded like a typical American middle schooler. That I’m still legally recognized as “Xin Zhang” seems to fly in the face of my attempts at assimilation and it’s hard not to resent that at least a little.

The fact is, the first impressions future employers, professors, etc. will have of me will likely be influenced by my legal name. That might not be a good thing in my case, as suggested by a study conducted by University of Pennsylvania, Wharton. In the study, emails were sent to 6500 professors across 89 different subjects from 258 U.S. universities. The emails were all under the guise of prospective doctoral students looking to meet with the professors to discuss their futures in their respective fields of study. The e-mails were nearly identical, the only difference being the genders and ethnicities suggested by the names of the fake students. Of the emails, 36.7 percent of those sent under Chinese male names were ignored while 66.8 percent of the meeting requests did receive a response were denied. In comparison, 26.5 percent of those sent under Caucasian male names were ignored while 52.4 percent of those that did get a reply were denied. Keep in mind that this is an industry saturated with highly-educated people who, as a whole, purport to value racial diversity.

I’ll be honest. Denying my background as a Chinese immigrant would mean rejecting at least a small piece of who I am today because, after all, people are shaped by their pasts. But people also grow from their past identities and I feel that I’ve grown from mine. Putting “Xin” behind me would not only reconcile my name with my perceived identity but also lessen the discrimination I can expect to face in my academic and professional career.

By Anthony Zhang, Photo editor


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