Have you ever seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a movie where aliens come to Earth and take over people’s bodies? I ask because I’m concerned about my mother. I think an alien has latched itself onto her brain and is making her do things she normally wouldn’t do—like use the dishwasher. What do you think? Am I crazy? Or is my mom an alien?
She’s talking to me more. There’s an unspoken rule that Asian parents and children must speak to each other as little as possible. Parents are the absolute authority while children are taught to be respectful, which is an Asian euphemism for obedience and not to ask questions. For centuries, this fragile but stable truce has kept many families together. The only permissible topics of conversation are 1) your grades, 2) your career and 3) …actually…those are the only two topics parents ever cared to talk about. Once, I got a B+ in math and it was like the zombie apocalypse in our household. But ever since I moved out of my parents’ house, my mom has called me nearly every day to “just talk.”
Mom: Hi son. Mommy tried calling you but you didn’t answer. How come you don’t call me back?
James: Sorry Mom, I was at work…
Mom: You still work for that non-profit?
James: Yup. Mom: That’s what happens when you fail math. *click*
She’s saying strange, non-nonsensical things. This past weekend I went home to visit my parents. We spent Saturday doing things most Asian families would do, like go eat phở and buy socks because they were on sale. We also picked up a few items for my sister, who I will be visiting in London this week. As my mom and I were putting together a care package for my sister, she turned to me and said “I’m really proud of you and Shirley.” Why is this super weird? My sister works for Amazon in London while I am in Seattle doing community development. For any Asian parent in their right mind, these two careers don’t even measure up. Asian parents are supposed to say things like, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” That would have been totally normal and I would have replied “No one asked you for your opinion Mom! I’m 29 years old!!! I do what I want!” But instead, I was stumped. WTF Mom!?
She’s showing signs of emotion. As I mentioned, my mom has been calling me a lot more. A recent phone conversation we had still pierces my brain. At the end of our talk she said, “Bye James, I love you.” It happened really fast and caught me off guard. “Uh…what was that Mom? I think the phone is cutting out.” She repeated, “I said I love you.” This overt sign of affection clearly breaks the cardinal rule of Asianhood: don’t ever tell anyone you love them. EVER! It’s ok to think it, but you must never speak it. Terrible things happen, like a unicorn will die or something. It’s definitely gotten me into trouble in the past, which is why I never say those three little words anymore (except when I’m drinking with White people). “BRO!!! I love you…”
This is a lot to process for many Asian children like me. We didn’t grow up with a household full of affection. That’s just the way things were: different. I can’t give you a good reason why Asian families don’t have intimate conversations or why parents don’t say “I love you.” Is it part of our culture? Maybe. For example, it’s ok to give hugs in American culture, but within an Asian household these things simply aren’t done. It doesn’t mean Asian parents don’t love their children. I’m pretty sure they do, even though I seriously had my doubts as a child. When I told my friend Ruel, who is Filipino, about my mom’s recent behavior, he replied, “That’s weird. What did you do?” What else could I do? I told her I loved her back (seriously though, I just said that so my Alien Mom wouldn’t eat my brain).