I was recently touring the Wing Luke Museum, located in Seattle’s International District, with a group of youth in our leadership program. One of the students, May, was limping throughout the tour. She was bruised up from basketball practice so I offered to carry her backpack, which was pink with white laces. “Do you ever get mistaken for a student?” asked one of the kids.
“Come on dude, I’m ten years older than you. That’s chú status. Respect.” Chú means uncle in Vietnamese and is used to address males who are older than you but younger than your parents. “Do I look like a student?” I puffed out my chest and tensed my abdominals, but May’s backpack was bringing me down. The textbooks were so heavy.
“Yes,” they unanimously agreed. Mentally I imagined all of them circled around me, pointing and taunting. “One of us, one of us, one of us.”
“Whatever,” I shrugged with quiet dignity. Deep down I wanted to call my mom and tell her that I was being bullied by a group of adolescent teens.
It might seem flattering to be mistaken for a high schooler when you’re approaching 30, but I assure you, it is not. Imagine an elf and a dwarf having a child together. It would be beautiful, timeless and wise, but extremely short and attracted to shiny objects. All of the other elves and dwarves would outcast this hybrid freak of nature. This is me.
Like most Asians, I don’t age like normal people. We draw it out. The U.S. Office of Minority Health reports that Asian American women have the highest life expectancy of any other ethnic group in the U.S. It is both a curse and a blessing.
Reflecting back on the past ten years, I realize how Asian longevity has impacted nearly every aspect of my life.
I graduated with a Masters in Education in 2008, at the tender age of 24. When I tell Vietnamese elders that I have no plans to get a PhD, they literally laugh in my face. Elders think they’re sooooo cool because they survived a war. They think they’re sooooo awesome because they were refugees. They think they’re sooooo smart because they learned how to live in another country and culture. But do they have a Masters in Education? I don’t think so.
In 2010, I took the first steps into a lifelong career in community development (my mom tells me it’s not too late to work for Boeing). I am a program director for an emerging non-profit organization (where people mistake me for a high school volunteer) and I meet tons of interesting people (who ask if I make minimum wage). What’s worse is that my sister works for Amazon (making her the favored child based on income) and says they don’t donate to small non-profits.
I started going out to bars as soon as I turned 21. There wasn’t an establishment in the world that could keep me out because I had the two most important forms of identification, a U.S. passport and a driver’s license. Unfortunately, growing older didn’t change the fact that I would still get carded every time I went out to a rated-R movie, or when visiting pubs in London.
Even at 29, I can still date college girls. That’s right. They like that I am mature but still look their age. My listening skills have greatly improved too (except when I’m playing video games). But ugh, college girls are soooo immature. All they care about is clubbing, pageants and saving orphans in Vietnam. I don’t have the energy for that. I used to go out all night—college style. But college style has become increasingly difficult. Two drinks and all I can think about is sleeping and going to work the next morning. Plus, college girls don’t have jobs yet and I’m simply too poor to be their sugar daddy (see career, above).