“Be direct and firm,” I suggested to my friend Quynh, who wants to move out of her parent’s house. A group of us were sitting around a table brainstorming strategies to help her.
“You should just leave, don’t ask,” said Martin—followed by cheers from the rest of the table. “Yeah, do it!” We were all rooting for Quynh, but telling Asian parents you want to move out of their house is one of the hardest things to do in life. It’s harder than telling them you got a “B” in school; more frightening than telling them you don’t want to be a doctor; and much worse than telling them you work for a non-profit. Unfortunately for Quynh, she has already broken all three of these Asian taboos—which made me wonder why I was hanging out with such a failure in the first place. Oh right, it’s because I did the exact same thing.
To assuage Quynh’s concerns, I shared my own story of the day I told my parent’s that I was moving out for good. I defiantly marched up to them and said, “Mom, dad, I love you but living with you drives me crazy. I can’t take it anymore!!!!! Can I borrow your van to move out?”
It was true. Living with my parents made me lazy and useless. Every day when I returned home from work, dinner would be on the table and my laundry washed. To make matters worse, my mom often complained about having to cook and clean for me. It was like being a teenager again. “Ugh, I never asked for your help mom! You didn’t even do my laundry right. HANG DRY! I have delicates…” Things got so bad that I eventually became addicted to World of Warcraft and logged over 500 hours online—it was totally sweet but made me even more resentful.
It’s common for Asian children to live under the same roof as their parents well into adulthood. Some households may contain multiple generations of families living together. For many refugee and immigrant families, it’s a matter of finances. For others, it’s due to cultural norms and family-oriented expectations. For my friend Kamal, it’s because he still needs his mom to crush large, hairy spiders. In fact, one of the few legitimate reasons you have for moving out is when you actually buy your own house, which is becoming much harder to do.
Among a younger generation of Asian-Americans like myself, the clash between our traditional cultural values with mainstream American ideals often result in arguments with parents, miscommunications, frustration and mistrust. Kids feel smothered by their parents while parents think their children are whiny brats. I imagine Quynh feels about the same way—a constant tension between family responsibilities versus personal identity. Or maybe I’m way off and she just wants to move to Seattle because it’s has way cooler bars and is great for hipster watching—one of the few luxuries Seattle has over Kent.
For me personally, moving out was probably the best and healthiest thing for my relationship with my parents. Nowadays, they regularly call me to see how I’m doing. Our conversations are much livelier and we can talk about “real” things like world events, civic engagement among Asians or funny Youtube videos about cats. Best of all, Seattle is far enough away that they never want to drive up to visit, but close enough that I can always go home when I’m too lazy to cook. It’s a win/win.
I don’t think Quynh came to any firm decisions by the end of our conversation, despite our barrage of great ideas like “Be so awful that they kick you out.” But if majoring in American Ethnic Studies didn’t already get her kicked out, I don’t know what will. Good luck Quynh!