Asian American

partially cross-post from Zephyr – a lot of rambling ahead!

Below is a really really good article that I found. It’s a weird, disjointed read that doesn’t have a lot of similarities with my experience as an Asian American, but there are a lot of things in here that make me snap my fingers. The comments (as of when I’m writing this) are also surprisingly good.

In particular, unlike the author, I take immense pride in my Chinese heritage and never really wanted to erase that aspect of me. I do do the amusing thing where I say “American” when I mean “white”. There was an interesting thought experiment where in high school, they surveyed the class and said “I identify myself culturally as an American” and I could not raise my hand.

Also, as someone who is very lucky to be on good terms with her parents, this quote really kills me:

I have learned to perform love without loving, I hurt the people that I love. I wrote about them in stories and essays and talked about them in classes and meetings, but I failed to love them when I was alone. I didn’t return my mom’s calls and responded to her five paragraph texts with two sentences. “Sorry, I’ll call when I’m not busy” or “I’m working on an essay” were my responses to her love letters.[…] Yet I asked them to love me in all those ways. And, in all those ways, they unreasonably do.

Which gets into a whole other minefield of differences between Chinese and American culture that make it uniquely hard for Asian-American kids and parents to both love themselves and love each other. (aka. hahaha, I love it when a white Asian American studies professor tells me that the push that some Asian American parents can put on their kids “doesn’t feel like pressure” because hoooooly crap have you even talked to kids (the rest of the video does an OK job explaining the model minority stereotype)). From my understanding of talking this out with my folks, in Chinese culture, love is very much implied / assumed to be understood. To them, the child is supposed to know that their parents are pushing them so hard because they love them, and that that investment of time and love can never really be repaid (aka. how you get to the idea of filial piety – it’s not that “children should be subservient”, it’s like “this is the natural response for how children should respond to the sheer amount of un-payable love their parents have given them”. As a result, statements like “I love you” are not really said – just a continued emphasis on self-improvement and growth. This really clashes with the American idea of love, where constant praise and shows of appreciation are expected, so when the Asian-American child doesn’t see the same affirmations, this is where things get tense.

(Mildly relevant link about “Thank You” in India vs. America)

Although my folks are aware about the culture differences (as shown by the amount we’ve communicated about it and tried to reconcile it), this still doesn’t prevent miscommunications from occurring – where both sides make implicit assumptions about what the other side knows that turns out to be totally wrong. I remember once my folks saying “Oh, don’t do X. Everyone will blame your parents for your bad behavior” and I being very confused about why my actions would cause them to be blamed. It makes a lot more sense when you compare American individualism vs. Chinese parent-child relationships.

I also remember a Chinese moral / didactic story that my mom told me once where the mother spoiled her kid, so the kid grew up to be a thief since he had this expectation that he could get whatever he wanted. The kid eventually got caught and before he was going to go to the gallows, he asked if he could see his mother one last time to either whisper in her ear / drink milk from her breast once more. When the mom came, the kid bit off the body part, saying “If you had raised me right from the beginning, I wouldn’t be going to the gallows now”. Now if THAT story doesn’t show how different the culture differences can be, I don’t know what will.

Some other quotes that really resonated with me:

we thought not giving a fuck, not being so sensitive, but, instead, being “cool with it” was our way of saying that we were not what we made fun of.

I’ve learned to use and misuse detached academic words like “diversity,” “privilege,” and “safe space” in my arguments and conversations. But I’ve never been asked to see my relationship to the people we defined.

Instead of thinking about why all their friends and girlfriends are white, white students ask “Why do they only hang out with other black kids?” or “Why do they only date other Asians?” They say minorities are being exclusive. And in the classrooms, rather than trying to understand and love, we learn to define and patronize other people and their experiences.

Also, obligatory, link to Gene Yang’s great comic book about the Asian American experience (or really any American immigrant experience). Hayden definitely has it

Stay literary, my friends!


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