Hyphenated life: Mixed loyalties in family and faith

Each summer when I was a girl, my family would drive from Ken­tucky to Minnesota for our annual visit with relatives. We made the trip in two days, stopping for lunch and breaks at rest areas and the occasional fast-food restaurant.

On the day of departure, I wanted to roll out of bed and right into the station wagon. Instead I was instructed to brush my teeth, wash my face, dress myself in the tidy clothes picked out the night before, and comb and part my hair so that it could be pulled neatly back into my matching barrettes. I remember asking my mom why we couldn’t just wear our comfortable pajama shorts and why we had to fix our hair when we were going to be in the car for two days. She explained that many of the people in the towns along the way had most likely never seen an Asian person before. Therefore, we would want to make a good impression.

For better or worse, from an early age I have been very conscious—and self-conscious—of the thresholds that I cross, thresholds that signal to me differences. Growing up as a minority, not every arena was the same to me. Whether it was a rest area or restaurant along the highway, a school, a church, or a home, I was aware that each arena had its own norms. If I wanted not only to survive but also to flourish, I had to be aware of every threshold that I crossed.