Vivian and I try co-blogging again

We need a good title for this series. The Asian Letters? For now, here’s part two (in response to part one).

Edit: I’m going to put this after the jump to keep my blog cleaner and a little less in-your-face personal – trying not to make my blog a diary. So, I’ll be posting these only on The Asian Letters from now on.

September 20, 2010


Dear Asian,

I love that we can both watch the same documentary, discuss similar feelings, and yet ask different questions. To your “why the HELL am I here,” I say, “what the HELL is wrong with everybody?!” Why in the world do people here have the (serious) idea that Chinese food consists of sweet and sour and General Tso’s? Sure, people make jokes about black people eating fried chicken and drinking orange soda (or so I hear, ahem), but people know that’s a joke, right? How come I have to answer dead-serious questions regarding the contents of General Tso’s, of which I had never heard until I worked at a “Chinese” restaurant?

I have to admit, I wonder if Faith will be better off becoming Americanized/Jew-ized because her parents are American Jews and she will thus be able to understand them, even though it broke my heart when she lost her ability to communicate in Chinese/Cantonese in the end. I am so conflicted about whether or not she really needs to retain much of her Chinese-ness given that she will likely live in America for the rest of her life and may or may not have contact with the homeland after a while. I also no-longer-secretly feel jealous that she might be able to avoid familial culture conflict in a way that I cannot. Then again, I’m not jealous of her position as adopted without choice and she may end up experiencing the same thing merely because she is racially different. That makes me sad.

Right now I am feeling particularly distraught over my relationship with my mother – she never embraced being American, even though she is naturalized, and even says that she wishes she could renounce her citizenship. We keep getting into arguments wherein she tells me that I need to understand Chinese thinking and I have to remind her that a) she originally moved to the U.S. by choice and had her kids here, b) she wasn’t there to teach me those Chinese ways anyway, and c) my dad is perfectly happy embracing the (conservative) American way and raised me as such. Maybe it’s just getting worse as she continues to live in China. Maybe she sees Angela as her real Chinese daughter and wonders what the fuck is wrong with Kathy and me.

This weekend I went to go see her because I felt like it was my duty as her (Chinese) child to respect the fact that she was in the states for once and that she spent so much time/energy/money on us this summer. Things were okay during the day, but at the end of the night, I finally got up the courage to remind her that she had promised to pay me back for the online certificate that I’ve registered/paid for, partly because I feel pressure from her to go back to school for something. She got all obtuse with me and then asked “do you want me to?” Well, DUH, of course I WANT her to! So I said about as much, and then tried to be polite/do the right thing by saying “well, but of course it is up to you and what you want to do.” She then proceeded to completely flip her shit and pummeled me with “WHAT YOU MEAN WHAT I WANT?!?!?!” before launching into something about the monetary weddings gifts we received. Oops, I mean I received. Are you confused? Because I definitely was. Seriously dude, it was like talking to a schizo.

Why was she talking about wedding gifts? After some wrestling to get her to explain herself and then trying to unravel the half-bad-English, half-Chinese lecture, I finally figured it out. According to her, the Chinese way is to pay back those gifts in kind, so she has to pay all these people back for their weddings gifts to me. Oh, and right, apparently those were for ME, not for US, so her take is that I am supposed to have used THAT money for the class and the fact that she is paying that back to the gifters-I-mean-loaners was like paying me back or better. Can I also mention that she gave me the UGLIEST look when I said that I put the money in our joint account because it was for us and was using it as such? UGH. I am so baffled by this development and am skeptical that it’s really a Chinese thing as opposed to just another invention of my mother’s crazy. If I had known or could even conceive of things being this way, I would never have accepted those gifts. The real bottom line: I’m out a sizeable chunk of money, which is made even worse by my continued demi-employment, and I feel shafted by my mom.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the shitfest continued for another hour, going through such topics as Adrian’s parents, the way her constant questions make me feel like I’m doing something wrong (complicated by the fact that she vehemently denies asking some of the more pointed questions), how I fully intend on being a mostly-home semi-working mom, how we can’t get along because we are completely different people and her idea that we are similar because we are mother-daughter is wrong, and how she’s a bad parent because she never says no. I’m not kidding. I told my own mother that she is a bad parent and needs to learn how to say no. I don’t regret it at all, even if (especially if?) it means she says no to me. Maybe then I could finally say no to her.

Also, when discussing Adrian’s parents, she showed me that she has a very skewed concept of what a relationship is like and doesn’t recognize that mine is healthy and happy. She essentially lectured me on how I need to understand that he loves his parents a lot (duh), that sometimes he might be upset with me because I was rude to them this summer (another duh, though not a proud one), and that I need to be careful because it’s clear that I love him more than he loves me (whaaaa?). I have no idea what Chinese couples are actually like – do they not communicate about feelings? Is the woman devoted to her slobbering, disconnected man? I guess that would explain why she thinks that we are that way. Fortunately, we are not, but I guess there is no convincing her. Even Adrian’s mom telling her that love cannot be measured and that Adrian is clearly the more affectionate one hasn’t helped one bit.

The issues here are many – her complete lack of understanding of a healthy relationship/marriage, the Chinese traditions that I know nothing about (and seem rather suspiciously like they may not really be traditions at all), and the intense denial she has going on. I know that a lot of this stuff has to do with the fact that she’s crazy, but I can’t help but wonder how much of this conflict is happening because she is stubbornly Chinese and I am distinctly not. I feel a little guilty about my lack of Chinese-ness but mostly I just feel angry that I have been subjected to this crap all over again. I’ve been doing so well with leaving all of this behind and being independent at home with my husband, but just 30 hours with my mother puts me right back into adolescent anger and depression.

Why can’t she recognize that she made the decisions, happily or not, to have American children and then leave us with our father? Why am I being punished for being exactly as I should be – an individual who happens to be an American-born Chinese? Am I wrong for continuing to wish that we could all be individuals rather than racially motivated? After all, at the end of the day, I’m not particularly American, either. You know I judged the crap out of the parents in that documentary and that I love that Adrian judged them even harder.

I definitely feel the foreign-in-America, American-in-China feeling bearing down on me, even though I know that my identity lies very squarely in being Asian-American, rather than Asian in America. I guess we shouldn’t generalize Asians, but I definitely believe that there is a unique Asian-American experience (or, a set of shared experiences among different Asian immigrant children) and I hope we can help each other figure it out.


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