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Reclaiming My Identity Part 1: Finding My Voice

Photo of the author Serena Chu, a smiling Chinese-American woman wearing a pink cardigan.

Reclaiming My Identity: Three stories from Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders (AA and NHPI) at NIH

This year’s AA and NHPI observance month theme, “Reclaiming My Identity,” was inspired by the Washington Post article, The Power of Reclaiming My Asian Name. In the story, the author explores the significance of her name, and how using it, alongside her anglicized name, allowed her to embrace her complete identity as an Asian American.

In this three-part blog series, your NIH colleagues share their personal experiences in a journey of reclaiming their identities. These intimate stories are important to share because they let us know that we are not alone in our struggles and challenges, and they serve as a doorway to the complexity and richness of the AA and NHPI experience in the United States. Through our stories, we are reminded of the beauty of celebrating and embracing diversity in a pluralistic society. We also hope these stories build bridges that reflect universal human experiences and connect all of us in solidarity.

Navigating language and identity as a child of immigrants

My family immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong when I was six months old. At that time, my parents did not know any English, so Cantonese (a Chinese dialect) was exclusively spoken in my household when I was growing up. It was not until I began kindergarten that I started speaking English. My parents were still struggling to learn English, so they continued to speak Cantonese to me, even though I responded to them in English. My parents tried desperately to have me speak Cantonese to them, but I simply refused. I wanted to fit in, which meant that I needed to speak English like everyone else around me.

Reconnecting with my cultural heritage

My parents enrolled me in Chinese language school, but after two years of little progress, mainly because I did not apply myself, they finally let me drop out. When I graduated from high school, my mom thought it would be great for us to visit Hong Kong for the summer. Being in Hong Kong for a couple of months allowed me to experience my culture through a new lens. It was such a relief to just blend into a crowd. Although I could understand a lot of what was spoken to me, my ability to speak Cantonese was rusty since I did not have much practice. But after being immersed in Cantonese full-time, I finally started finding my voice again.

I relished the experience of understanding and responding to my relatives in my mother tongue. When I returned to the United States at the end of the summer, I continued to speak Cantonese to my family members. This is a practice that I continue to this day. Speaking Cantonese helps me to feel grounded and connected to my heritage.

Find your community with an Employee Resource Group (ERG)

Serena’s journey was enriched by being among her culture and people who spoke her native language. Consider joining or starting an ERG to connect with other people like you at NIH. ERGs help to build a sense of community within an organization and can serve as a resource for employees who share similar backgrounds or experiences. Check the ERG webpage throughout the year to find groups available at NIH.

If you enjoyed this story, join us again for the second part of our blog trilogy, “Reclaiming My Identity.”

Do you have a story idea for us? Do you want to submit a guest blog? If it's about equity, diversity, or inclusion, please submit to

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