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FINDING YOUR PLACE IN THE WORLD THE UPSIDE OF BEING AN OUTSIDER

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By Trishna Buch
Chiufang Hwang was born in Taiwan and moved to the
United States at the age of 2. Together with her parents
Hwang started her new life in Hempstead, Texas. After
living in Texas for a couple of years, moving from Hempstead
to Prairie View, she was four-years-old when she
and her parents ended up in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
After living in Rock Hill for a year, she moved to Columbia,
South Carolina and lived there from age five until
she was in the fifth grade, along with her two younger
siblings – a brother and a sister. In the middle of fifth
grade, Hwang’s family moved to Birmingham, Alabama
and lived there for a few months before moving back to
Columbia. She resided in Columbia until the middle of
seventh grade, during which time she moved to College
Station, Texas and spent a few years living there. When
she was grade 11, Hwang and her family moved to Wichita
Falls, Texas and, one year later, moved back to College
Station. Hwang got her doctor of medicine degree
from University of Texas Health Science Center School
Of Medicine in San Antonio, her residency is psychiatry
from the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and
her fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry from
the same school.
While she was living in Columbia, Hwang attended
a predominately black school. “There were a few white
students and there was me—an Asian—but the majority
of the students were black,” she told me. Hwang told
me that she never felt discriminated a day in her life, but
because there were not very many Asians, she “didn’t
always know where to go.” She became acquainted with
a classmate, Janine, when she was in the second or third
grade, but their friendship didn’t really blossom and solidify
until after she moved back to Columbia the second
time around.
Hwang told me that her family lived in Alabama for
a few months before moving back to South Carolina.
“There was one time in Alabama, that my father was supposed
to pick me up from school and he ended up forgetting
me there,” Hwang told me. “It was quite scary, as
the janitor had even locked up, and it showed me that I
needed to develop street smarts, in case something like
this happened again.” Therefore, when she moved back
to Columbia, she began to take the city bus home from
school. It was at this time that she solidified her friendship
with Janine, as she also took the city bus. In conversation,
Hwang told me that she felt safer with the black
children in her school and “Janine was a bigger girl, so
she became my protector.”
Not only did Janine become her protector, but she also
became her mentor in how to “be black.” Janine taught
Hwang how to act, how to talk, how to walk and how to
dance. Eventually, Hwang began picking up and using
the style of talking, walking and being that she was witnessing
in her school and through her peers. She was
beginning to assimilate herself into her community, but it
wasn’t always simple. She told me that her parents tried
to prevent her from talking and behaving like her peers,
telling her “don’t talk like this” or “don’t act like that.”
Hwang told me that Janine’s guidance and mentorship
played a huge role in her future. She currently runs
a medical clinic with her husband in Dallas, where 97
percent of their clinic’s patients are black. “My patients
always tell me they feel at home in our clinic because
our office is decorated with pictures that would only be
known to people who grew up in a predominately black
community.” In fact, Hwang told me that her husband is
often asked by their patients if she (his wife) is one of
them, to which he replies “she is black in every way except
her skin color.”
Hwang’s memoir, Finding Janine, is her third. One of
her books, American Sweetheart: Still Not Making The
Team, details her experiences trying out for the Dallas
Cowboys Cheerleaders. “I tried out for the first time when
I was 34, have tried out nine times since then, and I remain
the oldest person to try out for the squad,” she told
me. Her other book, Grown Up Child, details her journey
of coming to the United States, moving around from city
to city and—all the while—feeling neglected by her parents.
Finding Janine came about around 30 years after
Hwang had developed a friendship with Janine. “After
being unable to find her for quite a while, I finally did so.
I called her up and even had the opportunity to attend
her wedding.” Hwang told me that, even though Janine’s
wedding was attended by only black people, she never
felt more accepted or at home. “I met her family and they
embraced me completely.” As a result, Hwang thought it
would be important to write about her experiences, hoping
that people could learn from her experiences that
embracing different cultures is our country’s greatest
strength.
Hwang’s memoir comes at the perfect time for America.
Racial tensions and corresponding violence is quite rampant
right now. But, despite being one of the only Asian
students in her school, Hwang experienced nothing but
acceptance from her peers. Furthermore, although she
assimilated quite well to her peer group, she never forgot
her Taiwanese roots. Hwang’s journey and her book
demonstrate what truly makes this country great—diversity,
respecting other people’s cultures, and knowing that
it is possible to assimilate to one culture, while still holding
on to your own.
You can purchase all three of Hwang’s books from
Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Direct links and more information
about Hwang can be found at http://chiufang.
com/. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram at
@mdchiufang.

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