Tonight, like countless other bloggers on New Year’s Eve, I sat down to blog about 2011. I even wrote most of the post, depicting my year as the plummet and eventual stabilization of a jet. Then, I set about writing a conclusion and then realized that the sheer cheesiness of my own post was inducing my nausea. After a moment of hesitation, I trashed the draft and did what I do in moments of indecisiveness — head over to Gawker. I stumbled upon “The Best Things We Read All Year” post and perused a few articles before finding Paper Tigers.
After I read the first page of the article, I was astonished by the boldness and veracity of the author. He’s an Asian-American who just used the word “fuck” in an article. Like, one published on the internet in his own name for his Asian parents to find! The more I read, the more I realized that I never wanted his clear, chilling reportage to end. To my surprise and delight, the article continued for 11 pages total. I urge any of you who are Asian-American or have any interest in the Asian-American to read the article; I will refrain from summarizing it for you in the fear that I will fall short of the author’s brilliance.
Let me preface my post by presenting a disclaimer: this is not about bashing on Asians or Asian culture. Nor is it about bashing on so-called “bananas” and “Twinkies”. I am proud to be Asian-American and I love my Chinese-Taiwanese roots. I love the Mandarin language and I love Chinese culture. This post is my take on the issue that Paper Tigers addresses and that (in my opinion) more Americans ought to be addressing: what is wrong with the Asian-American subculture?
At the dinner table tonight, surrounded by family friends (all Chinese-American and Taiwanese-American, first and second generation), I witnessed behavior that no longer struck me as unusual. As all of the guests, save for my mother, had children between the ages of two and nine, the topic of conversation turned to schooling. One mother repeatedly mentioned “King” and I, an invisible and unwitting eavesdropper, wondered to myself what she was talking about. “I want my children to go to King. There is no problem there. I hear that the parents are all very dedicated to their children there.”
After jogging my memory, I realized that she was referring to the other elementary school in the area. She continued, “There are not so many low income there. At Logan, the students are very good, but the low income pull them down.”
The other mother then asked dubiously, “There are low income at Logan?”
The first mother replied emphatically, “Yes! Beyond the area where I live, there are lots of them there.”
I deduced that her two daughters currently attend Logan Elementary, which also happens to be where I went. Although I had heard such prejudiced and discriminatory opinions from many Chinese before, this time it appalled me. There is something wrong with this practice of first-generation Chinese parents infusing their second-generation ABC (American-born Chinese) children with values such as these.
As a result of attitudes like this and a generation of Asian-American children susceptible to their parents’ beliefs, the Asian-American has become one of the most despised and misunderstood citizens in the United States. More than any other term, “Asian” with a capital “A” recalls a mass of blank faces, straight-A’s, gaffes, and 2400 SAT scores. Make no mistake; “Asian” is a derogatory term. Half of the world is jealous of the Asian’s successes and the rest looks down on his social plunders. As a typical Asian-American teenager, you must adapt to two options: hang out with your own crowd or subconsciously accept white superiority by joining them in debasing the Asian.
If you are caucasian, let me ask you: how many times have you said “herro” to make fun of Asian accents? How many times have you laughed when you mistook one Asian for another (“you all look the same to me”)? How many times have you butchered an Asian name simply because you didn’t try? How many times have you asked if Asians could wear contacts because their eyes have got to be too small? How many times have you used “oh, she’s Asian” as if that explained someone’s entire being?
Now, if you are Asian-American, let me ask you: how many times have you done the above?
Please don’t feel that I am judging you. In fact, it is just the opposite. I, myself, am guilty of all the above. As a high school student faced with those two options, I chose the second. Ironically, as much as I ran from my Asian identity in public, in private I was Asian through and through. To me, getting an A- meant that I didn’t work hard enough. Failing to get into an Ivy League school meant that I wasn’t good enough. Simultaneously, though, not partying meant that I wasn’t cool enough. Having too many Asian friends meant that I was too Asian.
I am sure that many Asian-Americans around the nation can relate to my experience. Now, the question is: what are the ramifications of this double identity, this internal conflict?
From the outside looking in, the average adult assumes that although the typical Asian high school student is socially alienated and under the reign of the cool, partying group, eventually the former surpasses the latter in the workplace. “Oh, it’s just high school. Kids are dumb. Eventually, the nerd is going to be the jock’s boss and none of this will have mattered.”
Until today, I thought this to be true too. After all, Asians routinely outscore all other subgroups in test scores and earn a higher median wage. However, this quote from Paper Tigers shows that high school laws don’t end with graduation. “Asian-Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents.”
The article argues that second-generation Asian-Americans have been taught by their parents to fear failure, which will incite the shame of their entire family. They have been taught not to take risks — medical school, law school, dental school, etc. or starvation. They have been taught to be self-sufficient — only hard work will bring you success; you can’t rely on anyone but yourself. They have been taught to live guilty — you must think of your family, you don’t know what sacrifices we had to make, now you have to take advantage of the opportunities we never had. They have been taught to be boring, faceless, one of the many. They have been taught that you are defined by your achievements and your failures.
At the dinner table in an Asian home, parents discuss grades, test scores, college admissions, piano recitals, and what the family friend’s child is doing that their child is not doing. There is barely talk of philosophy, literature, politics, history, and even more importantly, feelings and opinions.
The second-generation Asian-American is struggling in the midst of what she believes, what her parents believe, and what society tells her she should believe.
To her, I say, in the words of Wesley Yang, “fuck” them all. You are capable — do not underestimate yourself. You are not superman — people can and should help you. You are good — do your best and nobody can ask you for more. You are an individual — you should stand out in the crowd. You are who you are — not who someone else decides you are.
Happy New Year, all.