How finding community helped an NAU student embrace her heritage

Cate Cameron in front of a sunset in Hong Kong

By Cate Cameron

Cameron is graduating in May with a degree in international affairs with minors in studio art and Chinese; she also is a member of NAU’s Honors College. In honor of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which NAU celebrates in April, Cameron talks about how she first explored and then embraced her Chinese heritage through Chinese language classes, the Chinese Culture Club at NAU and spending a year studying abroad in Hong Kong.

Cate Cameron standing in front of an elaborate temple in Hong KongOn Dec. 3, 2000 in Dianbai, China, a newborn baby girl was left on the steps of Dong Hu Park. That baby was me. I was found, taken to the police station, and then placed in the Dianbai Social Welfare Institute. After 15 months of living in the orphanage, my life in China came to an end. On March 3, 2002, I was adopted into a loving family and my journey in America began. Due to being so young at the time, I was unable to fully comprehend my beginnings. Additionally, because I grew up in the second-whitest county in California and experienced forms of racism, I had little interest in my identity as an adopted Chinese American.  

After I moved to Tucson in 2012, my curiosity about my identities grew as I was exposed to a larger Chinese population and met and connected with more children adopted from China.  

I continued my personal journey when I moved to Flagstaff to attend NAU. During my four years, I am proud to say that I was able to learn about my birth culture and embrace my identity as an adopted Chinese American through classes, organizations and study abroad opportunities at NAU.   

Taking two years of Chinese language courses with my professor, Wu Laoshi, was a major marker in my adventure to understand myself. Not only was I able toCate Cameron with a friend eating dim sum in Hong Kong learn about my birth culture, but I was also starting to learn how to speak Mandarin so I could communicate with my birth parents if I could find them. What made this experience even better was that I was able to do it with the help of Wu Laoshi, who was always kind, understanding, supportive, insightful and compassionate about Chinese culture and language. Words cannot explain how thankful I am to have met her and have taken Chinese with her. 

Through my class, I was also introduced to the NAU Chinese Culture Club. I joined during my freshman year and was able to my further my knowledge in Chinese culture and connect with international students from China and students who were also genuinely interested in Chinese culture. In my second year, I wanted to get more involved and decided to become an officer to help plan events and engage our members. Then going into my junior year, I was elected as the chair of the club. Having these positions and involvements in the club further expanded my passion and interest in my birth culture. It also allowed me to connect with several other students who were adopted from China. Being a part of this small but powerful community on campus helped me feel more connected through shared experiences, interests and identities and allowed me to help facilitate more cultural exchange and awareness on campus.  

Members of the Chinese culture clubMy class and club also introduced me to study abroad opportunities in Asia through NAU. This led me to go out of my comfort zone and travel overseas for the first time alone in Hong Kong for a year during the pandemic. While abroad, I became extremely connected to Hong Kong and its history, culture and people. Not only did many Hong Kongers (Hong Kong locals) and I share being Chinese, but also we both had a connection and history with Eastern and Western cultures. I was able to hear people speak in English and Cantonese and learn simple local phrases to communicate. Additionally, I was surrounded by mainly people who looked like me and I did not feel like I stood out as I usually do in the U.S., which is a fulfilling feeling in itself, to say the least. Going overseas also pushed me to explore Chinese culture and history on an individual level by taking courses that had more of an Asian perspective and visiting a variety of different culturally significant sites in my spare time. The experience I gained while studying abroad allowed me to find comfort and beauty in the complexities of holding multiple identities. 

After returning from my adventures abroad, I did not want to end my connections with theCate Cameron wearing a mask in front of a decorated staircase in Hong Kong experience of being overseas, so I decided to volunteer at the Education Abroad Office at NAU. Through this opportunity, I was able to share my experience of studying abroad as a Chinese American, connect with others who also went overseas, and encourage other NAU students to go abroad, as it was such a life-changing experience.  

Embracing and learning about my identities and cultures throughout my time at NAU has been the most rewarding and empowering experience that I could have ever asked for. Not only was I able to understand myself better but also help others as they went through similar experiences. I am proud to be a part of the AAPI community on campus and call myself an adopted Chinese American! 

NAU Communications