Thursday, April 26, 2018

What It Means To Be ABC

Have you ever heard the term "ABC" outside of the context in teaching your kids their alphabet?  "ABC" is a term I grew up with, one that was used so much, I often forget I might have to stop and define the acronym before continuing as if everyone around me understands it.  Having grown up in a predominately Asian area, where all of my closest friends were Korean or Chinese, and all of my friends had parents who had come to the States in the 80s, I was unaccustomed to the obligatory pre-definition of the phrase, "ABC" for any of my friends.  It was just understood.  There were white people around.  Ones with blonde hair, blue eyes, brown hair, hazel eyes, you know the like.. but none of these white people surrounded my life.  None of them were close friends to me.  Sure, they were in some of my classes, but to be honest, as soon as there was an advanced math class that separated most of us Asian students, we quickly found all our similar looking friends with similar parents with broken English and strict house rules and demands, and we clung to them. They understood the food we ate, rice every single night at home.  They understood our no sleepover rules because they had the same ones.  They understood the objective of school to get into a good college and a good job (defined as doctor, lawyer, or business - yes, that generally speaking).  I cannot honestly say I had any truly American friends, the few I did encounter, I could count on my hands.  I of course knew a handful on my dance team, that was still dominated by the American girls when I was on the team, but I always felt defined by how I looked.  I now know, I let myself be defined.  But it's hard when you can't exactly change the way you look, and you don't want to be classified as a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), because in your group of like minded, similar looking Asian pride gang of friends, that is deemed wrong, offensive, and laughable.

ABC is a term we use to describe the fact that I am "American born Chinese."  It's weird, because it doesn't actually make sense.  I'm actually a Chinese born American.  But in execution, it makes a lot o sense. I was always expected to maintain my Chinese culture, my look obviously could not be abandoned no matter how "American" I became, no matter the clothes I wore, or the crimped hair my mom would not let me get, or the big bangs I did not sport, or the push down socks I did have (yes!!! score one for being more American).  One uttered Chinese word, and everyone would know I was ABC from my awkward American accent.  One glance at my dark sun kissed skin, and one would know I was ABC and not using enough sun tan lotion (sunblock but for some reason every Asian person I know calls it suntan even when it's SUNBLOCK, it drives me insane EVERY SINGLE TIME).  One eavesdropped loud guffaw of a chuckle, and one would know I was ABC because really Chinese girls don't laugh like that, they just submissively giggle.  Tall, loud, proud.... and definitely ABC.

What I failed to understand was ABC is a shared experience across generations.  When I married my half Chinese-half white husband, I became related to a bunch of his married Asian uncles, all who are  second or third generation, but also "ABC" kids.  This was shocking to me!  They spoke perfect English, just like me.  They spoke broken Chinese, just like me.  They looked completely Asian, just like me.  And yet they were so much older than me.  They had lived in San Francisco in the 60s.  They had lived in Utah in the 70s.  But like me, they had eaten you fan for holidays.  They had been taught to respect their elders in that strict Chinese filial piety way.  They had to find their own voice in preserving their Chinese culture that was somewhat lost between their parents who were more Asian and them, who were less.  And I guess this realization is what made me realize the immigrant experience of being ABC or ABK or ABJ or ABT, whatever.... is one that so many of us experience or our ancestors experience, and we need to talk about it, write about it, and share about it!

My thoughts are all over the place, but basically as a bunch of stories are coming out about the Chinese Exclusion Act, I've had all these conversations with my Uncle Jeffrey about this part of history that is finally being retold more accurately even though it's sad and infuriating at times, it's just a true story of the times, which indeed were different than now.  But as I'm listening to these stories, I'm realizing not only that I have to share them with my kids, but that I have to, HAVE TO, write down my own before I forget or get old or die.

So here are a few of the stories that prompted my reawakening to my own Asian pride, so to speak.  Not in the hate all the other races kind of way, but more in the proud of those who have come before me, who have dealt with similar struggles, common experiences, you get the idea.

Untold America: Part One

Untold America: Part Two
Chinese Exclusion Act Documentary
Cool article about Uncle Jeffrey's family finding their lost media

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Why I'm Overly Paranoid

We're deep into Spring Cleaning (for the first time.. but that's another story on its own), and yesterday, for the first time ever, we cleaned our living room windows.  I am quite proud to say we did a pretty good job, and you can actually see through the windows, there's even a lot more light than normal.

While we were in the middle of cleaning, I decided to call my mom via FaceTime.  She had called earlier saying she hadn't seen the kids lately, but we've been busy with sickness that it didn't even cross my mind.  Jordan was outside on the other side of the windows, using my mop, to scrub down the windows.  Dagny, Cooper, and I were on the inside spraying the windows, using a microfiber towel to wipe it down.  Bubba was sick and taking a nap downstairs during all of this.  I thought it would be a cute image for my mom to see her grandson helping out around the house.

Her first reaction was, "Be careful leaving Jordan out there like that, he could get kidnapped."

....

.
...
...


Do we live in a dangerous area?  Do kidnappers just roam the streets, waiting for every possible moment a child is outside, mind you completely supervised by his mom on the OTHER SIDE OF THE WINDOW, so they can snag them away?  I get that there are kids who get kidnapped outside of the home, or even from their homes, but I'm quite positive those are the exception, not the rule.  It's not like Jordan was outside playing by himself, without me being nearby for a long time, he was within 2 feet of me, only separated by a window.  I couldn't even believe the comment.  I mean, I get that she was probably thinking of moments when I might leave Jordan alone...

"I'm right here Mom," I replied.

"Still, you never know, someone could come and take him."

......


..
..
..

Let me tell you, this is an entirely common reaction from my mom.  And in thinking about it, I think that's why I'm as paranoid and distrusting of everyone as I am.

I knew before I was 16 to NEVER TAKE A DRINK FROM A STRANGER.  To NEVER LEAVE MY DRINK ALONE AND THEN COME BACK TO IT.

I was not even in college when my mom told me this.

I walk to my car alone LOOKING OVER MY BACK, CLUTCHING ONTO MY PEPPER SPRAY, and my keys are always ready to go before I get to the parking lot.

I once watched a Dateline about a husband who poisoned his wife slowly with blue gatorade laced with antifreeze, and I won't go near Gatorade.  

I once watched a movie about a girl who got raped on the racetrack when she was working out, and I won't go near a racetrack, or anywhere at night, by myself, to avoid putting myself in any dangerous situation.

My eyes are always darting around making observations like I'm Sherlock Holmes whenever I'm with my kids, how tall is that person that has been near us for a while, why is it so peculiar that this stranger keeps showing up at the same aisles as us?  Does he really need the SAME grocery items as us?  Is that a coincidence or is he stalking us?

A few times, my paranoia has come in handy, when some creepy guy kept following me at a somewhat sketchy mall appeared to go into EVERY SINGLE RANDOM store I went into (I started to go into random ones to test if he was following me), and I finally ended up telling a Victoria's Secret saleslady someone was following me (I had been in the store already, went back, and he followed me back, and after talking to her, I noticed he backed off at which point I boogied to the closest exit and into my car, never looking back).

And I wonder if my mom had anything to do with that.  So I guess there's the good and the bad...and that's why I'm overly paranoid.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Grade Stuff Only Immigrant Kids Understand

I once hid in my closet after school, afraid of what would happen when my mom saw my report card.  On it, I had a C next to physical education. 

I got spanked that night.  With a rubber slipper that hurt SO BAD.  But inside, I knew it was my fault.  It was my fault I couldn't physically finish four laps (that's a mile... a very long mile).  It was my fault my PE teacher hated me.  It was all my stinking fault. 

Never mind my parents never took me out to run around a field.  Never mind my only form of physical exercise was a weekly jazz dance class.  Never mind that I didn't do any other sports.  Never mind that I had never done a jumping jack until I was in PE at school.  Never mind any of that. 

Growing up, I always knew that grades were important, but somewhere along the way, I didn't really think physical education would matter.  In the back of my mind, I thought my mom would forgive me for a bad grade because we weren't very active in our family.  I barely learned how to ride a bike when I was 8, not because anyone taught me, but because my dad came home from a garage sale with two bikes, one for my cousin who was 3 years older and living with us at the time, and one for me.  We both didn't know how to ride a bike, so my dad took us to the elementary school where with much trial and error and some physical scars from falling, we learned how to ride a bike.  My brother, six years younger, wouldn't learn how to ride a bike until he was in his early 20's.  I was shocked when i found out, but by the time he was of age to learn how to ride a bike, our bikes had disappeared into the backyard where dust and obscurity conquered them.  My brother would never learn how to ride a bike while living at home. 

It was really physically hard for me to run a lap.  My lungs ached for air, my body hurt with its lack of use, and my mind didn't care to try. 

That was, until after I got beat for my grade.  I didn't just fear for a sore thigh, I feared that my mom would do something unthinkable.  Like throw me out.  Or stop feeding me.  Because in the Chinese culture, those are the things love translate as.  A roof over your head, and food in your belly.  I feared I would be a disappointment.  I feared I would be mocked and ridiculed forever.  I felt so little.  So weak.  So sad.  So meaningless.  So dumb.  So incapable.  I cried for minutes in my small dark closet, wondering if anyone else in the world understood me and what I was going through.  Times like these were when I wished for a sibling the most.  My brother six years younger would not understand.  My cousins who lived with us had already moved (because they couldn't stand my mom's strict rules, even though years later they would admit it was her rules and regulation that got my cousin acceptance into UCLA).  It was just me and the darkness in my closet, answering me with an unapologetic silence, as if telling me to just woman up, and get over it. 

And yet, I came back determined and committed, and I ran those four laps even if it meant I was dying for air, gasping for life, and desperate for a better grade than just passing.  I had to be excellent or good, there was no option to be mediocre, even if I was.  By means of being a Chinese student, I needed to have good grades, even if that meant physical education.  And once I accomplished it, I seemed to have forgotten the pain and anguish that came with being alone and lost.  I rejected those feelings of inadequacy and told myself to shape up.  I aligned with the Chinese culture my mom had beat into me.  And I obeyed.  And I succeeded.  And I thanked my mom for making me a stronger person who was able to pass physical education. 

But now when my kids get bad grades, I inherently gasp inside before realizing I need to lead with love, be patient, hear his side, and then try to teach.  It's an additional step immigrants didn't have the time for, but with all that I've been given, this is the least I can do for my own kids. 


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Yellow Is A Color Too

So.. this is a bit freaky.. cuz I'm putting myself out there, but I dunno how to find a publisher, and so many of you have said, "you should get this stuff published!" and while I think it's the same story as every other immigrant child growing up in the U.S., I guess it is new to some people.. so if you so fancy a podcast, feel free to search for it under podcasts via iTunes or Stitcher, and you should find it!  Free download, I have up to 5 hours before I have to pay to do this.  HA! 


Friday, March 16, 2018

Listen to Me Rant

I'm putting my writing into a podcast, because only me reading it will truly translate some of those raw emotions that come with my mother and our relationship.

Just the other day, I got my bangs cut again.  Not the wispy kind, the blunt against your forehead, look like I just came from Japan (no offense Japan) kind.  My mom hates these bangs.  And so, I haven't facetimed her just yet with them down.  I've clipped them back, wore a headband, or turned the phone to my kids.  For some reason, it's easier to not endure the critique she will immediately have and things she will say about how ugly my hair is.  I guess you could say I've gotten smarter, doing things I want to without her knowing, feels manipulative almost, but it's just our relationship.  When I was younger, I always wanted permed hair, much like most of the youth in the late 80's early 90's, but of course, she would not allow it.  In many ways, she scared me into submission, because I still have never permed my hair.  I guess those are the things I want to talk about, and explore with my podcast.  How I've become an adult, and sort of let go of those fears... or found coping mechanisms.

My podcast is currently on #spreaker, but it's also going to be listed on ITunes and Stitcher, both of which I have no idea how to link just yet.. so here's the link via Spreaker, my goal is to do super short daily episodes.  I have two so far... yeah, yeah, yet another thing I do... but seriously, two years ago, I really wanted to do this, but at the time, you had to get all this equipment and it seemed too hard, but now it's super duper easy!  Have a whirl if you please.

Click to listen to Yellow Is A Color Too podcast

Also, if you've been following along this blog, the stories are all the same, I plan to read most of my blog posts (with some improvised additions here and there) first.  If you enjoyed it, please share with friends, because though part of doing this is for my posterity to have mom's voice forever, it's also cool if other people enjoy it too.  Right?  I think...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Chinese Play Kitchen Labels - Free Download!

My mom told me, "you are a failure of a Mom if your kids cannot speak Chinese" the other day.  She's said it a few times since.  It is pretty annoying.... but unfortunately, it has stayed with me, because I know I could put more effort but since my oldest is in the Chinese immersion program and the others will follow suite, I haven't done much.  I did purchase some vocabulary flashcards and I did come up with some materials for a Chinese camp with other about to be first graders, but that has been the extent of my Chinese efforts.  I haven't even been speaking to them enough, it's been so bad that when I asked my daughter (who is 3) where her head was in Chinese, she was dumbfounded.  Oh no, I have not gone over stuff in so long that they do not even know the basics! 

So I am committing to be better.  I started by creating some printable labels for our play kitchen stuff.  Here's hoping it plays out and I am reminded to use Chinese with the littles during play time at home.  I plan to print these out and laminate (the cheap way: using packaging tape). 



Stuff White People Celebrate

Do you know why my kids all own bright green shirts, some even with shamrocks on them?  Do you know why we watch extensive YouTube videos about the history of the holiday every single year?  Do you know why I know that St. Patrick's Day is on March 17th every single year?  Do you know why we entertain rainbows, gold, and glitter green for the month of March?  Do you know why I wake up earlier to stamp green feet on our toilet and put green food coloring into our toilet? 

As a kid growing up with an immigrant mom who had just made her way to America in the early 80s, I was never well equipped for St. Patrick's Day at school.  Sure, the teachers were kind and would  give me a green shamrock sticker, but for the rest of the day, I was labeled as the kid who didn't know it was the day to wear green, a badge of shame and embarrassment and to me, being the dumb Chinese kid who didn't know any better.  I hated St. Patrick's Day.  I hated how everyone else had green.  I hated how even if I had known, I wouldn't have had any green pieces of clothing.  I hated how the one year I was prepared, everyone said my "green" sweater was actually grey. 

And so I vowed, at a young age, that my kids would own at least one BRIGHT GREEN piece of clothing.  That they would NEVER endure the ridicule of pinches and not wearing green.  Of course now, with today's world, there's so much sensitivity around not bullying other kids, so I'll also teach my kids to be kind to others not wearing green.  To tolerate that the grey shirt they thought was green, is indeed green.  To respect the shamrock stickers some kids have.  And to have fun with the leprechauns, the pots of gold, and green food. 

St. Patrick's Day is Saturday people.  It's time to get ready.