Escaping Asian Expectations

Photo by Sterlic via Flickry

Like most Asian parents, my mother and father expected me to work hard and get straight As. My focus was supposed to be on my education and become a lawyer/doctor/engineer. That meant no boys, no phone calls, and definitely no dating. They wanted a better life for me. As immigrants, my parents worked hard to give my sister and me shelter, food, and a good education. Things we take for granted. Things they didn’t take for granted back in Vietnam.

In high school, I really didn’t know if I wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer. I excelled equally well in all of my classes. I also loved my speech and drama class. As the eldest sibling, I’ve been raised to be practical. My dream was to become an actress, but I needed a fall back plan in college. You know, just in case I didn’t become rich and famous or get the lead in Miss Saigon. My first two years in college I double majored in theatre and computer systems.

I didn’t tell my parents about my focus on theatre.  For all they knew, I was toiling away in the computer lab, pecking out computer programs. You see, as the eldest, I wasn’t afforded the luxury of passion or whimsy. The expectation was that I would pursue a well-paid white collar career that would make my parents and our extended family proud. I loved my courses in computer programming (ok, except for all the databases), but hated the business courses that accompanied the computer systems major.

My doodles

I discovered my creativity. My passion in designing and construction costumes for our plays and musicals. I learned that I am an artist. But I couldn’t tell my parents that. I wasn’t supposed to be the artistic one. My sister was. Her talent was discovered early, in elementary school. We each had our boxes. Mine was a good sensible career that would allow me to take care of my parents in their old age. My sister, I think she lucked out. Artists get so much leeway, because, you know they’re artists. 

The box my parents put me in felt small, suffocating, much like Atara’s character in  I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, our book club selection for From Left to Write. Atara’s path was chosen for the moment she was born a girl. I wanted to be able to choose my own path. As the first person in our extended family to graduate college, the pressure to succeed excel was always present. This is why our family left their homeland to come to a country where they could only work as laborers. For their future generations. For me.

Thankfully, my family isn’t as strict as Atara’s Hasidic family. I pushed on the walls in my box, looking for a weak spot. Expanding and escaping that box took a lot of trial and error. Lots of arguments and tears from both sides.

As my parents grow older (and wiser), they’ve relaxed quite a bit. I’m not a doctor or a lawyer or even a computer genius. I work from home. I stay home with the kids and teach them about their Vietnamese heritage and a bit of our language. Staying home wasn’t even an option for either of my parents. They might not tell me they’re proud of me, but I can hear it in my mom’s voice as she teases me and worries about me. My father is a man of little words, but I can feel his love radiate. He speaks to me with the respect of an adult, not a small child.

I think I did fulfill one of their Vietnamese expectations. I gave them grandchildren. Damn cute ones too.

This post is inspired by I AM FORBIDDEN by Anouk Markovits. Though not sisters by blood but through their Hasidic faith, Mila and Atara views the rules and structure of their culture differently. Mila seeks comfort in the Torah while Atara searches for answers in secular literature she is forbidden to read. Ultimately each must make an irrevocable decision that will change their lives forever. Join From Left to Write on May 8 as we discuss I AM FORBIDDEN. 

As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.

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