25

Me at 18, looking at snapshots of my future. Can’t believe this was more than six years ago.

Today, I turn a quarter of a century old. It’s reasonable to think that I’ve only lived a quarter of my life. When you put it that way, I feel incredibly young. To think that I might have to live my life three times over makes me feel like that’s too long! I’ve had so many experiences in my short life — sometimes I feel that if my life were suddenly taken away from me, I would be okay with that. Life has been plentiful and beautiful and exhausting. Looking back, I don’t have any regrets, and I feel like I’ve seen most of what life has to offer. I always say that the one hallmark of the human experience I haven’t known personally is profound grief, but perhaps I’ve felt that in my own way. Death isn’t the only way you lose somebody. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, and there is plenty that I don’t know, but I don’t feel the way I used to when I was younger, when I was so afraid of missing out on some unique, once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I used to picture scenes of my future life, where I would make hot chocolate and look out the balcony of my New York City apartment on Christmas Eve. Where I would travel across the world and meet a stranger and exchange our life stories. Where I would show up to my very important job in a suit and converse with colleagues in foreign languages. Gradually, each of those scenes unfolded in real life. It always surprised me how much they were exactly as I had envisioned, and then, how little I needed to have them again.

Maybe I’m jaded, or maybe I’ve just grown up. Sometimes, I wish that I could have grown up in this way later, but perhaps it’s for the best. I don’t want to end up having a mid-life crisis later and realize that everything in my life was meaningless. The truth is that I still have dreams, and my life has so much meaning. My dreams are simply different, and the things I find meaningful now are also different. I just think 99% of what society says is important is bullshit. People might think I’m crazy, and I certainly doubt my sanity at times, but I can’t change how I feel. This past semester, after taking a puppy maternity leave, I realized that staying home with my puppy and protecting him from the dangers of this world and being there for every new sight and sound trumped any law school lecture. I love my dog more than I ever thought I would, and his wellbeing is paramount to me. Besides my fur baby, my human child AKA Billy Bob also means everything to me. This time in her life is so important, and it’s an incredible privilege and responsibility to be in a position to change her life for better or for worse. Every day, I think about how I can better prepare her to live a happy and fulfilling life once she no longer has us. That’s your job as a parent, isn’t it?

Instead of continuing to wax poetic about an arbitrary birthday, I’ll leave you with some things I’ve learned in my 25 years:

  1. You don’t have to be a Good Person™. I feel like there’s so much judgment in academic and liberal circles (cough, Yale) about what you choose to do with your career and whether you’re helping to change the world. Let’s be real — not a lot of jobs actually better the world. Some just appear to change the world more so than others. A lot of jobs that aren’t saving lives or protecting human rights can have an enormous impact on others. More importantly, your job doesn’t have to be the primary way in which you help other people. Personally, I believe that the people who always treat others with empathy, compassion, and kindness are the truly rare good people in life. I have one Facebook friend who takes an interest in others’ lives without expecting anything in return, just leaving positivity wherever she goes, and I aspire to be more like her. In contrast, another Facebook friend has a PhD and is always traveling to Africa for some humanitarian reason but ignores my attempts to connect with her.
  2. Money matters. Again, I feel like there is too much judgment about people who value money. Money freaking matters! Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy freedom. Freedom is one of the most valuable things in our short lives where we are often stuck in an office 40+ hours a week. Money means you don’t have to work more than 40 hours a week. Money means when you leave the office, you don’t have to think about work anymore. Money means you can invest in hobbies and self-care and the things that truly matter in life. Money means you don’t have to choose between healthcare and putting food on the table.
  3. Relationships matter. Even more than money, relationships matter. I mean family, friends, and romantic partners. Not everyone needs or wants to be married, but I think the vast majority of people benefit from a stable, long-term romantic relationship. That kind of relationship, a good one, is so much harder to find and maintain than anyone ever lets on. Contrary to popular advice these days, which is worry about your career first and then your dating life, I would tell my kids that they have their entire lives to figure out their careers, but they only have a decade or two to figure out the most important decision of their lives — who to marry. Assuming that they want marriage and kids, of course. I would tell my kids to take dating as seriously as their calculus homework.
  4. Enjoy pre-adult life. You will never, ever, ever have this much time ever, ever again! Also, you’re not an adult until you’re living on your own and financially independent. I think you’re not really an adult either until someone else is dependent on you.
  5. People suck. I used to think that adults had their shit together and people were generally nice. Nope. People are selfish and vain and irresponsible. This has become abundantly clear to me since getting a dog. You would think that dog people would be better than the general population, but I’ve had dogs attack Juno while their owners were nowhere to be found. I’ve had owners bring their aggressive dogs to dog parks. I’ve had to catch runaway dogs and bring them back to their owners because their owners let them off-leash. They’re the same people who don’t train their dogs and then yell at them for being poorly behaved. Ugh, don’t even get me started on backyard breeding and the people who dump their dogs on the street. Now, I’m sure that there are good dog people and good people in general, because I’ve seen them on the internet (I love, absolutely love, the reddit community). But seriously, I never meet them in real life. I really hope that people are nicer to their kids than their dogs.

    A page out of a book called Adulting that gave me a good laugh. I know a lot of people who should read this book. 😉

  6. People won’t understand. Along the same vein, people are judgmental and mean and critical. They don’t understand mental illness, chronic but invisible illnesses, the effects of sexism/racism, etc. People will always judge you, so stop caring what they think. Treat others the way you would want to be treated, and then simply walk away.
  7. Just be happy. This one is the #1 piece of wisdom I hope to pass on to my kids. Nothing, absolutely nothing, matters if you’re not happy. I don’t care if you’re smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, successful or not, single or married, rich or poor. The most challenging and the most important task of your life is to find your happiness. I’ve seen so many smart, attractive, successful, married, and rich people make horrible life decisions that lead them to depression, addiction, and worse. I’ve watched someone who was all of those things die a little inside until he wasn’t even the same person anymore. Nothing matters if you’re not happy.

Dear People of Color, I’m Sorry

My previous post was one of my most popular to date, and the feedback I’ve received from people of color has convinced me that I should write more about race. I guess the first question is: why haven’t I written more about race? There was a time when I cared a lot more about the Asian American experience in white America, but my foray into thinking about race critically never got much deeper than that. For the past five years or so, my understanding of racism in this country has been completely stagnant. Why is that? Part of it is that I devoted almost all of my intellectual efforts to my writing, and I think it’s telling that I wrote about Asian Americans in all of my novels — I did want to be part of the Asian-American narrative. But I still didn’t think deeply about what racism meant to me or how the Asian American experience could be connected to the Black, Latinx, etc. one. I didn’t write about Black Lives Matter, I didn’t express outrage at the fact that white America voted Trump into power, I chose not to get involved in the people of color community at Yale.

To all my fellow people of color, I’m truly sorry. If you would allow me to explain myself, though, there is another reason for my lack of participation. I have been and still am self-racist. Well, that wouldn’t be the accurate term anymore, since there has been a movement in the academic and activist circles to redefine racism as prejudice plus power. When a person of color discriminates against a white person, that is racial prejudice, but it is only when a white person discriminates against a person of color that such discrimination becomes racism. So, since I’m not white, I cannot be racist against myself. Instead, what I have been is a participant in and a victim of white supremacy culture. Let me explain. White supremacy culture is the predominant culture in our society. Its traits are definitely not limited to white people or even to America, but those particular traits are used in our country to shut down minority voices and perpetuate the dominant status of white culture. All my life, I’ve grown up within white supremacy culture, and its effects have been lasting. When I was in high school, I wanted more than anything to have white friends. Unfortunately, white people saw me as a goody two shoes, as someone who spent all her free time studying and playing piano. They never saw me as an equal, and they would often look through me as if I didn’t exist. Well, not all white people. White girls. White guys, on the other hand, sought me out to talk to me, maybe because it gave them a thrill to lure a straight-edge girl into darkness, to see if they could crack my sexuality.

In high school, I cared about things like how many white people were in my Facebook pictures. The more the better. I highly doubt that white people have ever looked at their friends, noticed that they were all white, and wondered if something was wrong with them. I looked at Asian Americans who had mostly Asian friends with disdain. The few Asian Americans who had majority white friends, I looked at with awe and admiration. How had they managed to do it? How had they cracked the code? What did they have that I didn’t? Fortunately for me, in college I dated my first Asian American man, who patiently taught me to embrace my Asian side. And he was tall and handsome and charming, defying the American stereotype of the quiet, skinny, nerdy Asian guy. After dating him, I never saw Asian men the same way again. I developed a newfound attraction to and appreciation for Asian men, because they shared so much of my experience and my culture.

Despite that I started allowing myself to indulge in the Asian part of my culture, however, I was and still am very “self-racist”. I’ll admit, it continues to offend me to this day when someone comments on how Asian I am. I often claim proudly that I am interested in Asian culture the way white people are interested in it — I like the sightseeing and the food and the raw feeling of a developing country, but I’m not at all connected with Asian current events or pop culture or politics. I love visiting Asia, but only as a tourist, and I’m happy when Chinese people think I’m Korean because I fumbled so much asking for one coconut in Mandarin (I ended up asking for yige zhege). When I traveled in Asia with my dad, I let him do all the talking for me, even when I could easily have spoken up. I really struggle to speak to anyone except for my mother in Mandarin. That’s not something to be proud of at all! It’s shameful. If I really think about it, I am incredibly grateful that my mom forced me to speak Mandarin to her, and my Mandarin is good enough to communicate most things. If I really think about it, I’m really proud that my Mandarin was good enough that I translated an entire personal statement about my immigration client’s domestic abuse. If I really think about it, I’m really proud that I was able to overcome my fear of talking to Chinese people in Chinese when I was in China last, because my siblings depended on me.

I would be remiss to say that I have any real understanding of what it means to be a Chinese person. My experience of China has mainly been cheap massages in fancy massage parlors.

So why does a part of me still believe that being a white-washed Asian American is a good thing? Let me tell you why: white supremacy culture. Dear white people, racism isn’t just the KKK or your senile anti-semitic grandma or Donald Trump and his supporters. That kind of overt racism is certainly harmful and can lead to death. But subtle racism can have more long-term effects, simply because it’s easier to recognize and reject overt racism, but subtle racism unknowingly changes how a person of color sees herself. Dear white people, every time a person of color writes about her experience with white supremacy culture and you are offended and imply that she shouldn’t write like that, that is racism. Every time a person of color writes about racism and white privilege and you call her racist and deny having white privilege, that is racism. Every time you try to argue with a person about the definition of racism and white privilege, that is racism. Every time you try to flip the conversation and accuse people of color of making you uncomfortable, that is racism.

Every time a Jewish person makes a joke about eating Chinese food on Christmas, that is racism. Jewish people may think that Chinese restaurants are open for Christmas because, like them, Chinese people don’t celebrate Christmas. That’s not why. Poor, uneducated Asian Americans are among the most underprivileged groups in the United States. They do not benefit from the model minority myth. Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas because they’re open on every holiday, including the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Day, National Day. They’re open on every holiday because they need the income and now, because of white supremacy culture, they’re expected to be.  You are essentially making a joke about people who are a cut above slave laborers and victims of human trafficking. I know for a fact that some of them are literally mail order brides, because I’ve represented them in court. Instead of making jokes about Chinese food on Christmas, try avoiding Chinese food on Christmas. Go on another day. If you must go, instead of laughing about it, try expressing sympathy for the workers who, unlike you, have to work on Christmas.

Dear people of color, I’m sorry. I’ve been silent too long for fear of upsetting my very white community, for fear of uttering the two words “white people”. I’ve been ignorant too long of how white supremacy culture has affected me. I’ve been too slow to join my fellow people of color in the fight against oppression. But I promise to be better. I have to be better, because white America is so, so racist and it’s only getting worse. I have to be better, because my children will grow up surrounded by racism, and it’s highly likely that they will be racist themselves. Can biracial children be racist? I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out.

When You’re Married to a White Guy

My white guy.

The fact that I am in an interracial relationship isn’t something that I think about a lot. It helps that I am as white-washed as Dan is yellow-washed…if you took away the color of our skin and the people we know, you would have a hard time telling us apart. When we travel in Asia, I often forget that Dan isn’t Asian. The other night when Dan, Billy Bob, and I were at a Vietnamese restaurant, Dan commented that we were the only white people in the place, and I laughed at him. Since when have you self-identified as white? I asked him. But the truth is that Dan will always be white, even when his Mandarin is better than his English. And I will always be Asian, even though my English has always been better than my Mandarin. Since we’ve gotten married, I haven’t really thought that much about being in an interracial marriage, but I have begun to realize what it means to be married to a white guy. When I say white guy, I don’t mean any Caucasian male. I mean white, upper-middle class, American, possibly Jewish guy who was born to a mom who baked and a dad who raked the yard and who had 1.5 siblings.

I never thought that I’d end up with a white guy. In fact, Dan is the only one I’ve ever dated. Back when I was single, I thought white guys were boring. Compared to the guys I dated, who were the product of statutory rape, whose parents didn’t speak English, whose families were constantly getting evicted, those white guys and their privilege were a turn-off to me. What did they know about suffering? When had they ever truly felt like an outsider, their white skin making them stand out in a bad way, not good? How would they know how to raise a biracial child? I stayed away from Taiwanese Americans and Chinese Americans like me, though. They always seemed too similar to me, like I was dating a sibling. As a culture junkie, I loved dating men who spoke a different native language than me. If I hadn’t found Dan, I probably would’ve ended up with a Korean American — it’s easier when you both speak English fluently, and Korean culture is just different enough from Chinese/Taiwanese to be interesting. When Dan and I started dating, I didn’t mind so much that he was a white guy, because he seemed to be an exception. He had lived in enough foreign countries and dated enough crazy girls that I assumed he had suffered. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of white privilege I would gain solely by virtue of being his wife. And how much, at times, I would hate being a part of it.

There are things that Dan knows because he’s a white guy. When we try to do a crossword puzzle together, he starts saying things that sound like a foreign language. Every time someone old dies and everybody cares, I’m like who the hell is that and he’s like you don’t know who Chuck Berry is? Although I know more words than he does, he knows how to pronounce them — words like “stability” and “macabre” and basically anything that English borrowed from French and then butchered. These are the small things. And then there are the things that Dan knows to do, like getting lawn and leaf bags to fill up with leaves from the yard. I had so many questions. Why are there bags specifically for leaves? Will trash bags not suffice? What is the point of raking anyway? And then there are the big things. Like yesterday, when Dan accompanied me to my doctor’s appointment and the rheumatologist spoke directly to him about my health. Of course, there was a good amount of sexism involved there, but I get the feeling that the doctor wouldn’t have been so chummy with Dan if he hadn’t been white.

Everywhere I go with Dan, white people like me more because I’m with him. He understands them and he knows how to play his role in their song and dance that is small talk. Whereas me, I’m just baffled by small talk. If you’re not one of my closest friends, I have zero interest in hearing how the customer service was on your last transcontinental flight and how your toddler is coming along in his potty training. Even with my closest friends, I would not expect them to listen to me talking about something so mundane, unless it was somehow relevant to their life. What do I prefer in place of small talk? Silence. Or normal introductory questions that you ask when you don’t know someone. Where did you grow up? What did you study in school? What’s your favorite color? Since I was introduced to Dan’s world, I have had to learn small talk, which is probably an important skill for me to have professionally. To be perfectly honest, though, I hate it. I hate that people who love to small talk force themselves on others, content to blab on about their lives without regard to whether the listener is enjoying the conversation. I hate that they use small talk as a crutch to never say anything personal, never show any vulnerability, never actually get to know someone.

Maybe this post is about how I hate white, upper-middle class American culture — the nepotism, the elitism, the egocentrism — and how I hate that I married into it and am now enjoying the benefits of it. I hate that my doctor takes me more seriously because of my hedge fund Jewish husband dressed in Gant and Cole Haan (I take full responsibility for the clothing…and I guess his job too). I hate privilege, and I hate that I have so much of it, but I don’t know what to do with it, short of throwing it away or moving to another country. I feel incredibly conflicted about the reality that I now have more white privilege than I ever did before, and that my children will have more white privilege than I ever will. How do you teach incredibly privileged children, who have received that privilege through sheer luck, to have perspective? What if they grow up thinking that having a full-time nanny and a cleaning lady and a luxury vehicle is normal?  I’m already raising one spoiled brat — Juno has no idea whatsoever that other dogs don’t go to the dog park every day and consume $500 of raw meat a month. What if I raise many more? Shudder. These are the things that you think about when you marry a white guy.

I’m Meeting My Boyfriend’s Parents

I can't deny I'm my parents' daughter.

I can’t deny I’m my parents’ daughter.

First off, I’m really sorry I haven’t been blogging with more frequency. I’ve really fallen off the social media bandwagon. You can only post so many selfies on Facebook before it gets tiring, right? (Note: the correct answer is “Yes, if you are sane”). In all honesty, I think I haven’t been blogging as much because I haven’t needed to. I blogged the most when I was lonely and bored. Boredom is a great thing, I think, and it’s often the impetus I need to be creative. But lately, life has been busy in mostly wonderful ways. When I have free time, I’ve been reading, writing poetry, and indulging in my favorite guilty pleasure — vicariously living out other couples’ drama in the relationships forum on Reddit. Seriously, try it sometime. It’s like a cross between telenovelas and Judge Judy.

Loneliness is not always such a great thing. There was a time when I couldn’t really talk to the people around me, when I didn’t really have people. And so I wrote, because that was my only voice. There was a time when the people around me kept telling me that I should fit into a certain mold. And so I wrote, because that was my rebellion. There was a time when I didn’t know myself. And so I wrote, because otherwise I would leave nothing of me in this world, not even footprints. Now, I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who listen to me, who accept me, who know me. I am not lonely anymore. I am, however, sorry that I rarely feel the urge to blog anymore. If it’s any consolation to you, my dear reader, I think I will be posting much more regularly in the near future. I just spent a weekend in New Haven, at Yale Law School’s admitted students program, and I have so many thoughts on the Yale experience. I get the feeling that this blog will be the outlet for many revelations and frustrations I’ll encounter as a law student.

But that’s a post for another day. Today, I wanted to make an announcement. I’m not always good at these. I used to get upset with my father, who never tells you anything and lets you find out for yourself. Oh hey, Rebecca, I got myself a wife. Oh right, about that, you have a baby brother on the way. Um, by the way, I’m moving to China. Now that I’m grown, I’ve realized how annoying his behavior is and done the exact opposite nonetheless followed his example. I’m my father’s daughter in so many ways — I can’t deny it.

When I was young and naïve once upon a time, I couldn’t have cared less about my boyfriend’s parents. They could own skyscrapers in Philadelphia, they could be undocumented immigrants working in Chinatown, they could be Mexican drug lords. I didn’t care if they were religious, racist, sexist, Communist. Most importantly, I didn’t care about the relationship my boyfriend had with them. As someone who had less than ideal parents, I couldn’t fault someone for their genealogy. As someone who has considered cutting a parent out of my life, I believed it was one of the hardest decisions and had immense respect for someone who had done so. If anything, I actively judged and despised those who had idyllic parents and childhoods. What did they know about suffering? How could they ever understand me? I envied those who grieved the deaths of their parents. To have loved and lost is always better than to never have loved at all.

After I started university and experienced my first serious relationship, I began to understand that you can never escape the influence of your parents, for better or for worse. Some people manage to lessen the degree of that influence to an almost negligible amount, but it’s always there. Even when teenagers rebel and shun their families, by middle age, they’ve grown into a carbon copy of their parents. Many of your parents’ flaws, you will carry on as your own. And so, I’m cautious now. Barring circumstances where his parents are despicable humans, I’m looking for a boyfriend who shows his parents patience, kindness, respect. He should confide in them, but stand up for his beliefs when they differ from theirs. If he has younger siblings, he should know that his job as Protector is a lifelong duty. He should care enough about his family members to confront them, challenge them, hurt them.

Even when these little munchkins are 50, I'll remind them to brush their teeth.

Even when these little munchkins are 50, I’ll remind them to brush their teeth.

Above all, I’m looking for a boyfriend for whom complacency is not an option, with regard to his personal growth and his relationships with those who matter most. I’m meeting my boyfriend’s parents for the first time this week, and I care. Although I have every confidence that things will go well, I will see both a glimpse into his past and his future. That’s not something I take lightly.

Oh, and did I mention that I have a boyfriend now? I told you I’m bad at announcements.

Ciao,

R

Dating As An Asian Woman

Most couples look like siblings who shop at the same clothing store.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that my posts lately seem straight out of a gossip magazine. Sometimes, even I feel like I’m writing a column called “Love and Sex in the 21st Century”. I promise you that, very shortly, I’ll get back to our regular program of rants about writing interspersed with rants about the world. But I tend to write about whatever is on my mind at the moment, and lately that has been dating. So if you’re not interested, skip this one and I won’t be offended in the least. My agent promised to get back to me on my novel by the end of the week, so I will update you all when she does. If you remember from before, there’s a bit of a marketing issue with the concept of the book, so I may end up having to do tons of rewrites.

Today, I want to talk about dating as an Asian American woman. When I started going out with my first Asian boyfriend, I wrote a piece on interracial dating. My conclusion then was that people generally preferred to date people who were similar to them, which explains the relative rarity of interracial relationships. In the past few years, though, it has become increasingly clear that there are many daters who exclusively seek partners of a specific and different race (usually white). When a white male has an Asian fetish, the similarity argument is no longer justifiable…unless that white man happened to be raised in Asia. Same goes for Asian women who only date white men. In fact, it seems like Asian women are the most racist in the dating world. They are the group most likely to be in interracial relationships and OKTrends helpfully gives evidence of their white men fetish — they write back non-whites at a terrible rate of 21.9%. Certain Asian American women unapologetically flaunt their fetish. Jenny An writes that she drinks “the same Kool-Aid as everyone else”, referring to white supremacy. For her, a white man is her card to the American club.

Well, I just wrote a paragraph about Asian American women in which I referred to them in the third person plural, when in fact I should have used “we”. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out that I struggle with identifying as an Asian American woman. While I hate the self-racism that people like Jenny An perpetuate, I admit that I too have drunk from this “Kool-Aid”. I’ve always preferred white guys and, if I’m completely honest with myself, I feel that I can indulge in this preference now that I’ve already dated an Asian dude. At the same time, though, I’m extremely wary of men with an Asian fetish and I’m well aware of the double standard here.

Yesterday, I spent an amazing evening with a guy I’ll call Hans because it was, according to him, the most stereotypical German name. Yes, he’s German and white. We watched “Midnight in Paris” and laughed a lot. I liked that he understood highbrow cultural references in the film, but could enjoy the lowbrow content of the film itself. I liked that he didn’t give two shits about pirating the movie. While I understand people who are against this practice, I find their self-righteousness a bit grating to be around. I asked him a lot about Germany, because I never had much contact with the country, and I love talking about linguistic and cultural differences. In the end, I found a round-about way of asking if he had an Asian fetish and was happy to find that he didn’t. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I’d love to explore all the possibilities with him.

As I reflect on our evening now, though, I am critical of my own feelings for him. I’ve realized since my time in Paris that my French ex, Luc, was right. I was drawn to him because he was white, French, older, a musician, and a filmmaker. Now, as I continue navigating the dating scene, I want to be sure that I’m attracted to someone for their personality and character, not the superficial boxes they check. And that is exactly what I encourage other Asian American women to do. I don’t believe that interracial relationships are bad. After all, if you are a woman dating in the US, statistically you’ll end up with a white guy because they’re the most common. But all Asian American women, and probably all women of color as well, should reflect on the possibility of self-racism in their relationships. You shouldn’t date someone because their ethnicity makes you feel like less of a minority.

Do you have a preference for a certain race in a significant other? What are your thoughts on self-racism?

Au revoir,

R