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My real name

| Tuesday, March 15, 2016

“Lily, what is your real name?,” a girl in my class asked me. I looked up from my laptop screen, shocked. I believed I did a good job to hide my identity as an international student from China. This question just punched me in my face, as if all my work was in vain.

When I do the usual Notre Dame introduction, I would intentionally forget to mention my hometown. This amnesia started second semester freshman year, as the difference of how people treated me before and after they knew I was not from the United State was so drastic that it hurt my feelings. I have done experiments to assure myself of this. If I tell someone I am from Beijing the first time we meet, then the conversation usually lasts no more than five minutes. However, if I tell them after we have already become good friends, the friendship could usually continue. So the problem is not me being unable to make friends, but rather the time I choose to answer the simple question: “Where are you from?”

One of my friends has tried to persuade me many times that I should use my real name, as it makes me different. The thing is, I want to be the opposite of different. I miss being called Xiaoyu. Xiaoyu is a verb from the bible meaning “inform” and “tell.” More importantly, Xiaoyu can only be used by God. My parents want me to spread God’s word to the world, and finish whatever mission God plans me to do. Apparently, Xiaoyu is not a common English name, and I understand that most English-speaking people have trouble pronouncing it, so I hide it from others, like hiding a dirty secret.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like being kindly asked, “Where are you from?” It allows me to tell my friends all the amazing things about Beijing, and about China, where I am really proud to be from. I do like how my friends curiously ask me, “What is your Chinese name?,” before trying so hard to pronounce it. I do like hearing “it’s a cool name, I like it” after I have told people the story of my name. What I am afraid of, however, is the interrogate: “What is your real name?”

I believe that a real friend would not be scared away by my hometown or my accent. However, the thought that if I told my friends that I am Chinese the first time I met them, we might have missed the opportunity to be friends makes me sad. Most of the time, I do not want to endanger a potential friendship, so I choose to keep my mouth shut.

Not talking does not mean not thinking. I am trying very hard to figure out the answer to the question: How do I want others to address me, as Lily or as Xiaoyu? I have had the American name “Lily” since I was six, and my Austrian and German friends call me Lily, so I relate myself to it. On the other hand, I have been called Xiaoyu all my life. I do not know which one defines me, or maybe I am both. Having lived at Notre Dame for almost two years, I am definitely changed. I become more and more Lily, but I am still Xiaoyu. This struggle of name and identity has taken place the moment I arrived in the United States, and is going to continue for a while. Hopefully the enlightened moment can come soon, as Ralph Ellison says in Invisible Man: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

As a Chinese student who was expecting huge culture shock and serious homesickness, I am grateful to meet so many wonderful friends at Notre Dame. One time, I was with a group of friends, and everyone was joking that I am a spy from China. A girl whispered to me asking: “Lily, are we being annoying for making fun of you or you are okay with it?” I told her I was fine and I found the joke funny as well (I am not a spy but just an ordinary student). Even today, I am still thankful for her kindness and understanding.

It is not hard to distinguish what question should be asked and what should not. If the question is coming from kindness and curiosity, then it is fine. If a question is from something else, for example, a negative stereotype impression of a group of people, then I would suggest not to ask. The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter where we are from or what we are called, we are all Irish in this loving and accepting Notre Dame community.

Lily (Xiaoyu) Yu

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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