Mariah’s Column: Living life as “Lin Lin”


Even though I had my yellow, jumbo Ticonderoga kindergarten starter pencil clutched awkwardly in my right hand, the blank sheet of wide double-lined paper still seemed terrifying.

The teacher had just instructed us to begin practicing writing our names on the paper. All the students around me seemed to know what they were doing, writing fervently and with such confidence. I remained motionless, contemplating my next move. The problem was not that I did not know my name—rather it was that I was having an internal war with myself about which name to write down.

I left the United States for a foreign country way before I could walk or talk, and so my earliest childhood memories involve frolicking among rows and rows of coconut trees in rural China.

For the first five years of my life, people had called me by my Chinese name, Lin Lin. When I attended preschool in China, they taught me how to write my name in characters—林林.

However, things soon changed when the time came for me to start school back here in America. That was when I realized that my real name was actually Mariah.

As we began to learn how to use letters to form words and write our names in my kindergarten class, everything felt foreign to me. There was always a moment of hesitancy right after my friends would call me by my name, as I had to mentally remind myself that they were referring to me. My name did not feel like it belonged to me.

Even in the second grade, after I had learned how to speak English and realized my love for words and reading, I still felt disconnected. At home, my family continued to call me Lin Lin, but at school, I was Mariah. It was like having distinct identities and living separate lives in separate worlds.

Twelve years have passed since I returned to America, and it has taken me this long to realize that rather than having two separate identities, I am an amalgamation of both. Though I am still trying to figure out who I am and what my identity is as a Chinese-American woman, I have come to realize that, thankfully, it does not have to be about being one or the other—I can embrace both.

As I am sure many people can relate, it can sometimes be very difficult to find our identity, to figure out who we are and what we love to do. Especially in high school, the pressure to conform can be great, overpowering even at times. “Following the crowd” is comforting because it is easy and there are no risks involved, but I think the ability to take risks and step out of our comfort zones is what keeps life interesting. After all, if I had never taken a risk, I would never have been able to experience life in Ethiopia last summer.

Although I have become quite fond of using pens over pencils lately, I occasionally think back to that day in kindergarten. I realize that it matters less about the type of writing utensil used and more about the way in which we write our names, or in other words, live our lives.

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