My parents both immigrated to America from Vietnam when they were teens. Not speaking a lick of English and dealing with the challenges of a new home, a ridiculously large family and the many obstacles that stemmed from war recovery and displacement, they struggled to adapt and fit in. Several decades later saw them with high paying jobs, settled down in the historically affluent and established city of Irvine, and having me. They had achieved their success story.
I consider myself lucky. I grew up in a beautiful neighborhood, never knew what true hunger was, and attended school in one of the best districts in the country. I was loved and had so many opportunities- piano lessons, tennis instructors, and the latest technologies (courtesy of my electronic-loving dad). It was textbook perfect.
However the 12 year old me who cried in confusion and frustration after being physically punished for "speaking out", and the 15 year old me who locked myself in the bathroom, throwing up because I didn't understand what an eating disorder was, and the 17-year-old me who ran miles in the cold to avoid going home because I kissed a girl but also liked boys, was confused. I loved my parents, I always did and I always will, but it felt like I never truly understood them, and them, me.
And it's not their fault, nor ours but it doesn't have to be this way, and it won't.
Subtle Asian traits is a Facebook meme page that has amassed close to half a million followers in just two months time. True to its name, the page features posts about growing up in an Asian household, and with many reaching upwards of 2k likes and thousands of submissions each day, it's insanely popular. I remember the first time one such post showed up on my newsfeed- it was a funny little thing about rushing to the piano when hearing your parents come home. I laughed, and tagged a friend. A few hours later, procrastinating and bored, I thought about it and revisited the comments. Many were joking about how they too had this reaction, and how they did this to avoid punishment. Thousands of people in my age group had this experience. And this is important. I know what you're thinking- "Really? She's going to bring a meme page into this?'" Yes, yes I am. This is because pages like this are signifying a growth and spread of a changing viewpoint on what it means to be true to your culture, while also creating a new narrative for generations to come.
Many millennials and Gen Z's often talk about the flaws of the older generation, and this is a conversation that is quite important to have within the Asian community. Although they have faced an incredible amount of hardships and trials, many still have a problematic viewpoint on race, sexuality, and mental health. My parents are no strangers to this. Although they can be considered progressive in many ways, having adopted a more Westernized approach to raising a child and maintaining income, they still hold on to troublesome ideals: the belief in physical punishment being effective, and the summation of mental health as being 'dramatic' chief among them.
This isn't an abnormality. Many of my friends, my roommates, and my younger family members share the same frustrations when talking to and discussing their own parental figures. This lack of understanding of the older generation's part stems from the prioritization of physical needs over abstract concepts (by necessity) and the historically conservative mindset of an old tradition. Although this mindset was helpful in establishing communities and a place for themselves in a new country, it has proved to be troublesome when put up against the more diverse and accepting narrative of our generation.
I'm here to say that this struggle is good. The fact that a meme page about relatable Asian experiences has grown so fast, is good. The record-breaking amount of young Asian-American voters turning out at this latest election is incredible, and the fact that we are recognizing our heritage through language, holidays, and tradition is a sign that it is possible to stay true to one's beginnings while also changing the narrative to one of acceptance and diversity.
For those of you who are reading this now, and are mentally nodding along with the descriptions of growing up Asian, I'd like to send you a virtual hug. It's hard, growing up with high expectations, strict standards about body image, and difficult conversations but, I'd like to implore you to think about the last time you had a discussion with your parental figures about what is troubling you- either personally or in the context of society. We, as a general population, are heading towards a brighter future- stable income, and kids raised with understanding and acceptance. However, it also wouldn't do to simply brush aside the contributions our parents and grandparents have put towards the future. Not everyone will be willing to hear about change, and that's okay, but it might not hurt too much to sit down and have a chat about it.
I am 20 now, and although my parents still joke about hitting me with a wooden spoon when I'm being particularly sassy, they are more understanding of my sexuality and my vision for myself and my future. It wasn't an easy process, but I love them and I want them to be included in the growing positivity of this new generation.