My hairdresser is a delightful Chinese woman who has been cutting my hair since middle school. Her salon is located in a modest looking house with a gravel driveway, but inside you are greeted with excellent customer service and low prices. She also has a Facebook page and posts occasional updates like “The mohawk is in now” or “I am so sick today, I am not open.”
I’ve basically grown up with my hairdresser—she has heard my stories from high school through college, and now my career in community development. Over the past twenty years, she has cut my hair for nearly every major life event: graduations, weddings, Lunar New Year, the series finale of How I Met Your Mother. I’ve also gotten to know a lot about her life and family too. On my most recent visit, I asked how her daughter–who is now in college—was doing.
“I want to kill my daughter,” she replied in a menacing tone that suggested she was quite serious. Last time I was here my hairdresser told me how proud she was of her daughter, so I wondered what happened in between. Maybe her daughter dropped out of school or eloped with her boyfriend? “She wants to get a Masters in engineering…waste of time.”
“A curse upon your daughter for bringing shame to your family!” I shouted while getting my bangs trimmed. “You must punish her quickly with…Wait a minute, huh?” I paused, believing I misheard my hairdresser. English is her second language, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps what she really meant to say “hug my daughter” or “give my daughter a perm”.
I suddenly realized there is something terrifying about an enraged mother holding a sharp pair of scissors by your face. “Umm…that’s just really terrible, but how about you make her do chores instead? Like sweeping all this hair off the floor. By the way, would you mind thinning out the top a little? That’s perfect, thanks. You’re the best!” I tried stay on her good side.
I’ve always thought Asian parents were supposed to push their children toward academic excellence and advanced degrees. A traditional Asian parent would be proud such a child. If my hairdresser wanted to kill her daughter because she majored in Art or got an A- in math, I would totally understand. But my hairdresser explained that her daughter has already committed herself to a veterinary career. She loves working with animals and even volunteers at a local shelter by her school. To illustrate her daughter’s apparent absurdity, she begins to talk in her daughter’s voice—which sounded eerily similar to Cartman from Southpark. “Mom, engineering is sooooo fun and interesting. And I can do it in just two years…blah blah blah.”
My hairdresser, who I have known to be a very hard-working and caring mother, has paid for her daughter’s education, housing and other expenses. “When I tell my daughter that I don’t want to pay for her school anymore, she starts to cry. Then my husband takes her side, ‘Why are you making her cry?’ Ugh, I want to kill my husband too.” I swallowed nervously; the scissors were uncomfortably close to my throat.
As an Asian-American, I have also internalized this imaginary pressure to be the best student—“the model minority.” For a long time I chased the phd carrot simply because I thought it was just another thing to achieve, even though my passion for it was questionable. I can relate to the daughter in this sense. When school is what you’re the best at, it becomes a safe place to be and major part of your identity.
At the same time, I sympathize with my hairdresser. I imagine paying for your child’s education is a lot like having an insurance company pay for your healthcare. People simply don’t care how much something costs when it’s not coming from their own pockets. Hip surgery? Sign me up. Year of tuition. sweet. So I understand the frustration my hairdresser must have felt when she thought she wasn’t getting a good return on investment.
In the end, I don’t think my hairdresser reached any profound revelations or solutions; she just needed a space to vent her frustration. I’m glad she shared her story with me because it gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own journey with school and career, and how I navigated that challenge with my parents (active avoidance). I hope those two find a bloodless resolution to their problem, but I guess I’ll have to wait until my next visit to hear how things worked out (maybe just before the season premiere of the Game of Thrones)!