When Mental Illness Is a Gift

Sometimes, it takes someone who's suffered to recognize beauty.

Happiness is fleeting, but maybe that’s okay.

People have asked why I write about my experience with BPD. My well-meaning mother has wondered aloud if, one day, an insurance company would deny me coverage or a potential Google-savvy employer would not hire me because my “illness” could be a liability. I highly doubt my job interviewers are taking the time to find my blog and read through my post history, but I acknowledge the possibility. Surely, when I applied for a U.S. Department of State security clearance years ago, they were quite thorough. Not exactly accurate though — they asked about my friend Knight from India because they saw on our website that my company was inspired by him. Struggling to keep a straight face, I explained to the officer that Knight was from Dali and I was no longer in contact with him. The officer asked about my history with alcohol, weed, and even men. I’m pretty sure he also asked about my mental health. I don’t recall how I answered him; maybe I lied. But I am sure that I don’t want to keep my mouth shut about mental illness out of fear that I might be denied a career opportunity at some point in the future. Before I am a professional, a soon-to-be lawyer, I am a writer. And before I am a writer, I am a human.

I absolutely loved Julie Holland’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. Too many self-described feminists and progressives are reluctant to admit that there are fundamental differences in the sexes. To ignore those differences is to neglect both the additional struggles that come with being a woman and the advantages of having what Holland calls an increased “emotionality”. Often, that emotionality is also the source of our struggles.

Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power.

She further describes the overmedication of women. Abilify, an antipsychotic, is the bestselling drug in the United States. One in four women takes a psychiatric medication. While some of these women benefit from their chemical regimen, for others it is wholly unnecessary. Holland believes that SSRIs are not necessarily the answer for many; they tend to dull positive emotions as well as negative ones. Users report feeling less in general — less empathy, creativity, sexuality. Her criticism of SSRIs hits home for me. A little over two years ago, I sat in my apartment with a bottle of Zoloft to my left and my laptop to my right. On my laptop was the very thing that was causing all of my stress. The unfinished manuscript of my first novel. I wanted desperately to have a magic pill that would make the crippling terror go away. The problem was that my novel was not only the source of my terror, it was also my purpose in life. If I took that pill, maybe I wouldn’t care if I failed anymore, but then what? If I had stopped caring, stopped berating and threatening myself daily, would I ever have written a novel?

My immediate response to Holland’s editorial was to think about mental health in that context. Those of us with “alternative” responses to emotion and stimuli are frequently considered diseased. What if mental illness was not thought of a sign of disease, but a source of power? After all, the most creative and talented people in human history have been eccentric at the very least; many were severely mentally ill. Did Vivien Leigh, Ernest Hemingway, and John Nash succeed in spite of their mental health or because of it? Could the very thing that provoked their negative emotions also have inspired their positive ones? Who gets to decide which emotions are positive and which are negative, anyway?

I am not ashamed to tell people I have BPD because it has been both the biggest struggle and the best gift of my life. On the bad days, I remind myself that sadness and loss are simply a part of the human spectrum of emotionality. Because I have such a capacity for grief, I am also able to feel the most wonderful bliss. Sometimes, I lie in bed and it’s as if I can feel every emotion I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Sometimes, I feel the weight of the world’s joy and pain on my shoulders. Sometimes, I think that my emotionality is the very thing that makes me who I am. And that, I believe, is the source of my power.

Why Americans Should Care About Hong Kong

Umbrella Revolution

Courtesy Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images.

The American media tends to care about terrorists, Ebola, and occasionally an unprecedented stand for democracy. The Hong Kong protests fall into this latter category, and that is why we’ve seen any coverage of it at all. Yet coverage like this tends to die out quickly when there is no more sensation. Americans often become jaded in the aftermath of revolutions such as Occupy Wall Street, the ousting of Saddam Hussein, and the Arab Spring. Three years after the Occupy movement, income inequality is as pervasive as ever in this country. Usurping Saddam only led to a power vacuum that the U.S. failed to fill and eventually vacated to ISIS. The Arab Spring precipitated a game of musical chairs of governments in Egypt. It’s easy to understand why an American might click on an article about the Hong Kong protests, look over a few photos, share it on Facebook, and be done with his duty as a civilian. There is, however, an essential difference that makes Hong Kong particularly relevant to Americans and, frankly, everyone in the world. Unlike ISIS, the People’s Republic of China has the capacity to start a world war.

Now, I’m not saying that a world war is imminent or even probable; I’m saying that it’s possible. The problem is that no one ever expects disaster. Before the Holocaust, Hitler was simply Germany’s democratically elected leader with a funny mustache and poor social skills. Before Pearl Harbor, the U.S. thought Japan wouldn’t dare touch a country that was the newly minted world #1 power. Before 9/11, America had enjoyed nearly 60 years without war on her land, and the attacks seemingly came out of the blue. The truth is that disaster is never random — it always arises from an extremely unlikely combination of resources, motivations, and personalities. Because psychology is not always rational, it is useless to argue logic in the case of Hong Kong v. the PRC. Yes, logically it would disadvantageous for China to antagonize Hong Kong. It would be idiotic to commit a repeat of Tiananmen Square and prompt the international community to implement economic sanctions. It would be suicide to wage war agains the United States.

The PRC, while many things, is not rational. Despite the fact that China is on target to surpass the U.S. as the leading world economy within a year or two, the central Chinese government still views itself as highly vulnerable. In their eyes, China is under the siege of so many existential threats, both internal and external, that the possibility of collapse is inevitable unless it takes extraordinary offensive measures. These offensive measures include amassing as much wealth as possible, playing chicken with the U.S. navy in the surrounding seas, and reintegrating Hong Kong and Taiwan. Most importantly, China does not view the U.S. as a fading world power that is increasingly dependent on the Chinese workforce. On the contrary, in the Chinese worldview, the U.S. is the enemy in a dog-eat-dog world in which only the fittest will survive. Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell write for Foreign Affairs:

Whether they see the United States primarily through a culturalist, Marxist, or realist lens, most Chinese strategists assume that a country as powerful as the United States will use its power to preserve and enhance its privileges and will treat efforts by other countries to protect their interests as threats to its own security. This assumption leads to a pessimistic conclusion: as China rises, the United States will resist.

China is convinced that the U.S. is hellbent on its destruction and that it is more than willing to use weapons of massive destruction in an ideological fight to the death. This is the psychological context in which the Hong Kong protests are taking place. For the PRC, this confrontation with Hong Kong is 1) of critical national importance, in the sense that Beijing must win and 2) a method of testing the water in terms of international reaction. Much like the way the Nazi regime used the Spanish Civil War to test its military strength and call the international community’s bluff, China is now employing Hong Kong as a pawn in its “war” with the United States. So far, the reaction from the Obama administration has been one of deafening silence. While Washington’s silence is no doubt strategic and probably beneficial in the short term, I fear that China will take it as a show of weakness or apathy.

Though the PRC is far from provoking anything on the level of the Spanish Civil War, it certainly possesses the motivations and paranoias that predispose it to heading down that path. In the coming years, as China continues to rise and the U.S. continues its decline, a clash seems inevitable. Whether that clash is on the scale of a Cold War-style proxy war or a full-blown world war remains to be seen. Right now, though, our best litmus test for the future is to carefully follow China’s every move with Hong Kong and Taiwan. If China intends to embark on an imperial quest of world domination, surely it will start with the two territories to which it has the most legitimate claim. As a key player of the international community, and the one China views as singularly important, the United States must not follow in the footsteps of London during the Spanish Civil War; neutrality is not a position we can afford to take.

The Umbrella Revolution of 2014 is only the beginning.

Food and Body Image

Me and my beautiful friends, one of which is Jane.

Last night, I told Hans about my childhood best friend whose friendship I lost due to her eating disorder. It was the first time I’d spoken about her that way in a long time. Time had dulled the feelings of frustration, betrayal, and loss. The memories had faded — whether or not it was a subconscious decision to protect my prepubescent mind, I’m not sure. Though it was difficult to walk down that particular memory lane, I remembered things that were so deep in the cabinets of my mind, they might have been lost forever. I was thinking of one particular summer. It had to have been either early June or late August, because we were in school then. Logan Elementary had sent us to Camp Storer, a strange YMCA production that was equal parts religious cult and Civil Rights Movement reenactment theater troupe. One afternoon, Jane and I were assigned to separate activities, her to fishing and me to candle-making. As the sun was beginning to set, we left our respective groups and ran to meet each other at the top of the hill, as excited to share our forbidden moment with each other as any pair of star-crossed lovers.

She was and will always be my first love.

This morning, I saw this article by the talented writer (and fellow Wolverine!) Emily Pittinos. Though she spoke of her relationship with her body beautifully and poetically, I felt like something was missing. I wished that, instead of apologizing to her body for abusing it and neglecting it in ways to conform to societal standards, she would have explored those very standards and the motivations behind her actions. I wished that she would have explained how her relationship to her body had changed over time, how she had arrived at this celebratory moment in which she is thankful for all that she is. I wished that she had said more, because poor body image/eating disorders are not just a symptom of adolescent angst and such issues plague women of all ages and shapes.

Jane and Emily both got me thinking about my own history with food and body image. I can confidently say that I’ve never had an eating disorder and I’ve probably spent less time hating my body than the average girl. But I’ve definitely taken part in disordered eating and there are periods of my life marked by how shitty I felt about my body. Right now, I am thankful to be in a place where I do not think twice about anything that I eat and I only eat what makes me feel good. I have no idea how much I weigh, and I don’t give a fuck. For the most part, this has been my college experience, whether due to my metabolism hitting its sweet spot or the several miles of trekking around campus, I don’t know.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing since I graduated high school — as recently as last summer, I went through a “fat phase”. I’d put on five to ten pounds, possibly a side effect of hormonal birth control. My clothes were all fitting a tad too tight and it infuriated me every time I sat down and the waistline dug into my stomach. When I visited my family in Florida, I looked at my dad and siblings and their stick-thin limbs, and I felt like my ass cheeks were orbiting moons. My 11-year-old sister, whose legs are half the size of mine, commented matter-of-factly that my thighs were fat. I don’t remember what I said back to her. I wanted to defend myself, to be a good role model to her, to prove to her that I was not overweight, but her words hurt me. The feeling that I was fat consumed me, followed me everywhere like a sticky tar that clung to my skin.

Proof that five pounds is arbitrary. Can you tell which is the “fat” one?

And then, suddenly, I wasn’t “fat” anymore. I’d started horseback riding regularly, running when I was really desperate, and working out. While the exercise was helping, what actually made me skinny was a combination of 1) going off birth control 2) breaking up with my ex and 3) being stressed as hell. For the first time in my life, I lost my appetite completely. I rummaged through my fridge, searching for food that didn’t repulse me so that I could put calories into my system. But the starvation made me nauseous, and so the cycle fed into itself. When I finally finished an entire sandwich, I was incredibly relieved. The process of regaining my appetite was not fast and easy. In the end, I learned an important lesson: to value my appetite, to be grateful every time I craved dessert, to be proud when I’d eaten until I was full. Though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy with the weight loss, I was so much more miserable during those “thin” months than the previous “fat” ones.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back and tell my 13-year-old self to eat a burger for lunch, instead of the cup of soup. I wish I could tell her that she didn’t have to fit into the size 2 jeans, that the 4s were just as good. I wish I could tell her that she was beautiful just the way she was, that everybody saw what she didn’t. But I know that it wouldn’t have made a difference, because being “thin” for her was a state of mind, not a physical trait. So instead, I pity her and empathize with her. Instead, I vow to work on my own body image. To never comment on or judge another woman’s body. To show my sister that “fat” is not the worst insult in the English vocabulary. If I have daughters, to ban the words “diet” and “calories” from the household.

What is your relationship with food and your body? How has media/societal ideals affected your view of yourself?

Ciao,

R

Taking Responsibility As a Writer

My little brother reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a book about dudes written by a dude.

Recently, several things happened in my life that made me think more seriously about the purpose of writing. First, my wonderful blogger friend Dennis McHale and I got into a heated discussion about evil in this world. We concluded that there’s little we can do to stop the crisis in Syria or the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea. But, as writers, our job is to alleviate pain — even if it’s just one moment for one person out there. Then, a few nights ago, I explained to Phineas why my writing is so important to me and why I feel so much pressure. As a budding novelist, I am still trying to find my niche in the publishing world. I’m asking myself questions such as: do I want to write mainstream or literary? Young Adult or New Adult? Do I care more about entertaining readers or influencing them?

Finally, I came across this poignant article by Mary McMyne, “Kate and the Beanstalk: What We Read to Our Children”. It is written from the perspective of a mother who wonders about the books she reads to her two-year-old daughter. She writes:

Every book my daughter laid out on the living room floor that night a few weeks ago was a book I had chosen carefully for her, because I believe that the stories I read to her at this age will help to construct her understanding of the world, her taste, her foundation for a whole life of reading.

When I read the above sentence, I shouted, “Amen!”. You see, as someone with a bookworm past, I feel that I’ve learned more from books than teachers, friends, and even my parents. They taught me more about love, loss, and humanity than I could have learned from living a lifetime as Rebecca Cao. McMyne recognizes the power of literature, and that is why she is concerned that women have a lesser role than men in the publishing world.

Women are still seriously underrepresented in America’s most prestigious publications. Book reviewers are still mostly men, reading books by men, too.

She notes that the female protagonists are also underrepresented in children’s literature.

But how many parents think to read their sons books with female protagonists? Not traditional tales like Red Riding Hood or Rapunzel in which the title character is passive and/or disobedient, only to be miraculously rescued by a male hero at the end.

In conclusion, she argues that in order to change the antifeminist scene of the publishing industry, it has to start with the books we read to our children. If we read our daughters and sons books that portray empowered, fascinating female characters, they will grow up thinking of women as empowered and fascinating. Going along with that, I believe that the young adult novels preteens and teens read to themselves are just as important as children’s literature. Perhaps even New Adult and Adult can have a significant influence.

After these three events, I took a hard look at my own motivations and decided that I needed to take responsibility as a writer. To me, that means to stand up for myself and my writing even when the industry pushes me aside in favor of a man. That means to keep writing even when I am disillusioned from rejection or I doubt myself. That means to post about my personal life as a passionate, ambitious, and flawed woman, even if my posts only reach the few hundred who regularly read my blog. That means to write novels that feature strong-willed female leads who face many of the real-life struggles of women today. That means I wish to reach out to the greatest audience possible, while maintaining the integrity and depth of my writing. That means that I will be writing entertaining stories with plenty of romance, sex, and drugs (because that is reality), but that also feature deep and genuine characters.

Fortunately, my current novel is just that.

What is your responsibility as a writer? What is the purpose of your writing?

Ciao,

R

Who’s to Blame for Sandy Hook?

Image courtesy Carlo Allegri/Reuters.

Image courtesy Carlo Allegri/Reuters.

This is the question that’s been floating around since the moment news of the Sandy Hook massacre broke. We, the People of the United States, want stricter gun laws. Oh, the 20-year-old shooter used his mother’s legally obtained guns? Well, in that case We want all guns to be confiscated. How did the killer even enter the elementary school? He broke in? Well, guess We can’t blame school security. So Adam Lanza was a shy, troubled young man with possible autistic tendencies? Then why the hell didn’t his mother have him committed to a mental institution? You know what, it’s the goddamned American mental health system that’s responsible for the deaths of those 20 beautiful, angelic children.

But you know what? Sometimes shit just happens. In 2007, 11,560 children died from accidental causes. Car accidents made up the majority of these deaths. Every year, over 500 kids are killed from gun accidents. The fact that those 20 Sandy Hook students happened to die together on one fateful Friday morning is an absolute tragedy, and it is made more difficult by the lack of a clear target of blame. I’m sure that many of the victims’ parents would have preferred that Adam Lanza had been captured alive, so that they could witness his impending sentence to life in prison (Connecticut was the 17th state to abolish the death penalty). But what purpose would that have served? We don’t know much about Adam Lanza, but we do know that anyone who would kill his own mother along with innocent children is likely sociopathic. Even in prison, where morality is slightly altered to say the least, the one taboo is violence against children.

Reading one mother’s experience parenting a mentally ill son is absolutely heart-wrenching. The 40-year-old single mother of four describes her son, who at 13 has repeatedly threatened to kill both her and himself. On some days, Liza Long takes Michael to the ER, where they prescribe drugs that don’t work. On other days, she drives him straight to the mental hospital, where she shouts for someone to call the police while she physically restrains her son. When Liza asked her son’s social worker for help, the worker suggested that she try to get him incarcerated because it’s the only way she’ll “get anything done”. By all accounts, Liza is an excellent mother and an extremely strong and talented individual. She has started a non-profit, written a novel, read The Iliad in Greek, learned Chinese, and experienced natural childbirth. If she has a fault, it is marrying her kids’ less-than-competent father, who may have tried to murder her and their children.

So what do you propose that Liza Long does? What do we do with people like her son Michael? As someone who has a psychopathic family member, I don’t have any answers. Sometimes, children can be evil. Sometimes, people are just born without consciences. Sometimes, 20-year-olds can commit mass murder without remorse. According the DSM IV-TR, 3 percent of males and 1 percent of females are sociopathic. Perhaps this explains why out of the 61 mass murders involving firearms that have occurred since 1982, only one perpetrator was female. Yet plenty of mentally ill people — such as my stepmother — lead (mostly) nonviolent lives. While I have seen her abuse kittens with sadistic pleasure and she makes it well known that she has a pistol and knows how to use it, she has never killed anyone. Surely, her lack of morals and capacity for love takes its toll on her family, but is that enough to lock her up? Should we take all these “high risk”, mentally ill people and put them in jail?

Even if this were feasible economically, the answer would still be “no”. We can’t just start getting rid of troubled individuals. And what would be the criteria? The fact that Adam Lanza apparently enjoyed video games and may have had Asperger’s has negative implications for every introverted boy who likes a good game of Halo. It’s a very slippery slope if we decide to play an offensive defense — much like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No, we do not need someone or something to blame. What we do need is, as Liza Long wrote, “a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health”. We can’t keep sending our mentally ill to jail or to live off the streets. We especially need to have a talk about children’s mental health. Most disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder required people to be 18 years old before they can be diagnosed. However, what are we to do when children exhibit clear sociopathic traits? We need to be able to have a better response to overwhelmed parents other than “put your kid in jail”.

Shit happens. People are born crazy. Now we need to find a way to deal with it without pointing fingers.

To everyone who has been impacted by Sandy Hook, I offer my sincere condolences. To the rest of us, may we rise above the blame game and collectively find a solution.

What I Think About Abortion

The debate on abortion is a convoluted web with no easy answers.

I usually prefer to avoid giving my opinion on issues like abortion, birth control, and premarital sex. This is because I find that when people discuss these particular topics, they debate everything except for the issue at stake. It suddenly becomes a battle of extremists arguing over religion, feminism, politics, and whether or not your unborn child has fingernails. Additionally, while I believe men should be able to give their input on female reproductive options, they absolutely have no right to tell a woman how she should or should not feel. Hello? You’re a man. You’ve never spent a day in a woman’s body, so how the hell do you know what it’s like?

Having prefaced my post with the above, let me just clarify again that this is neither pro-life nor pro-choice propaganda. Dear women of this world: can we please learn to share our opinions and experiences honestly, without promoting a certain agenda? Just because you self-label as “pro-life” doesn’t mean you can’t admit that perhaps abortion was a good idea for your friend. Just because you’re “pro-choice” doesn’t mean that you can’t admit to having feelings of loss or regret. In fact, this was the article that prompted me to write my own response. While I am in no way judging the author’s actions or thoughts, I find that she tries incredibly hard to come off as nonchalant. “Hey, guess what everyone? I had an abortion and it was no big deal. Suck it, pro-lifers!” (Note: this is my interpretation and not an actual quote)

As such, she never delves into the pros and cons of her decision. Of course, she might have elected not to share such intimate details on the Internet with complete strangers and I completely respect that. However, she herself states, “The harder it is to share, the more it ought to be done, otherwise we will eventually not have choices anymore.” If she is already sharing the process of her abortion down to the exact dialogue between herself and her husband, shouldn’t she also admit that not everything was so easy, breezy, and peachy? With sentences such as “The reality [of abortion] is so much different from the hype, it’s amazing”, she seems to be concealing certain aspects of abortion to promote a decidedly pro-choice agenda.

Ultimately, the part that bothered me the most about her view and many of the views expressed in the comments was how the pro-choice community treated abortion as a back-up contraception, a more expensive variation of Plan B (AKA the Morning After Pill). In my opinion, the difference is huge — Plan B prevents your pregnancy, while abortion ends it. Now, the debate on whether an embryo/fetus constitutes “life” is worth having. If a man strikes a pregnant woman and causes her to lose her unborn baby, does he owe her anything? The United States government says yes. My question is: why does the value of a child in utero differ so much depending on whether or not his particular mother wanted him? In order to have a perfectly unbiased, objective assessment on whether or not an embryo is a person, this conclusion should remain the same across the board.

The argument for the value of a baby in utero based on its size is, in my opinion, absurd and baseless. Essentially, proponents of this measure of “life” feel less guilty getting rid of something that looks less like a human. It is logical — after all, many of you would sooner kill an ant than a dog. But is that right? I’m not so sure. Many people also argue that when an unborn child becomes viable (around 24 weeks), that is when it constitutes “life” because it has the ability to be independent from its mother. This theory is also bull, in my opinion. If anything, a fetus of 24 weeks is more dependent on humans outside the womb than inside. Outside, it would need round-the-clock care whereas inside, it has everything it needs to thrive.

I realize that I’m beginning to sound really pro-life here. You know what? It’s because I am; I support life! You know what else? I’m also pro-choice; I support choice. I believe abortion should be legal and every woman should be able to have an abortion if she so desires. However, I also value life/the possibility of life and I think that abortion is not something to be taken lightly. Even if you think you’ll go absolutely nuts if you have one more kid or you are certain you’ll never be able to love that child, you could be wrong. Many parents have had unexpected children who turned out to be a great joy in their lives; it’s just so hard to predict the future.

Finally, I’ll address the religious fanatics/protesters who attempt to scare women into submission. Just. Shut. Up. Take your horrifyingly graphic photos of dead fetuses and hang them up in your own house if you’d like. Stop making an already difficult decision even more challenging for women in unfortunate situations. One day, if your 13-year-old daughter gets pregnant, or worse, is pregnant as a result of rape, or yet worse, you have to choose between her life and her baby’s life, and you still don’t believe in abortion, then perhaps I’ll value your opinion.

Asian

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.

R