Category Archives: Tiger Families

A look at the tension between Asian American parents and their kids. Why don’t we ever see eye to eye on topics like school, careers and values? Is there anything we can agree on?

More millennials moving in with their parents; copies Asian lifestyle

I recently read an essay on CNN called “I still live with my parents and love it.” It was written by Jillian Knowles, a 27-year-old woman who moved back home with her parents shortly after she finished graduate school.

A 2012 Pew Research survey found that 3 in 10 young adults live with their parents. “The share of Americans living in multi-generational family households is the highest it has been since the 1950s, having increased significantly in the past five years.” This demographic has been nicknamed the boomerang generation, referring to the large number of young adults who move out of the family home for a time, only to move right back in.

Jillian’s essay described some of her reasons for moving back home, such as financial, and some of the challenges she experienced, like being mistaken for a babysitter. If her essay didn’t also include a photo, I would have thought Jillian was describing an Asian American experience; the only thing missing was a fight over the Sriracha sauce. For most Asians, the expectation is that children will live with their parents until they marry, purchase their own home, or the zombie apocalypse happens (then it’s everyone for themselves).

What struck me most about the essay was that Jillian framed her situation as out of the ordinary, describing the stigma attached to it. “I live with [my parents], and society should be OK with that.” While this might be true in mainstream America, we Asians have been doing it for centuries. Ironically, for Asians there’s a stigma if you don’t live at home. Even Confucius and Buddha had to move back in with their parents after years of philosophizing abroad.

In my own life, I have moved back home on two separate occasions. The first time was for financial reasons. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in 2006. That lasted about a year until I decided eating rice for every meal was driving me crazy. So I decided to join the Peace Corps and get as far away from home as possible. Ironically, perhaps it was karma, but I was sent to Cambodia, where I ate rice for every meal.

The second time I move back home was in 2010, after I returned from Peace Corps. This time my decision was because of reverse-culture-shock. After two years of living abroad I to relearn simple American things in order to survive, like English, recycling, having a Black president, and showering.

Whatever the reasons millennials have for moving back home with their parents, there are some notable similarities and differences between mainstream and Asian culture.

Saving Money / Working off debt: Jillian had $150,000 in student loans and moved back home to pay off the debt. This is also true for many Asian families. It’s pretty much the cultural norm. Asian parents view this living arrangement as a way to provide shelter for their children, giving them time to prepare for the real world. Asians are technically still a child until they’re 34. For the children, it’s a chance to save up on a down payment to eventually buy their own home—the ultimately Asian life goal. I suppose makes us pretty darn American.

Family dinners: Jillian described the “endless supply of home-cooked meals,” which is also a perk for Asians. My mom would cook dishes like congee and won ton soup—recipes that I never learned—and in exchange I introduced her to exotic foods like pizza, spicy Cheetos, and hummus. It’s really not a bad trade off to be honest.

Taking care of family: This is one area where mainstream and Asian cultures differ. Most millennials move back home because they can’t make it without their parent’s help. According to the Pew report, 78% of 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed say they don’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want, compared with 55% of their same-aged peers who aren’t living with their parents.

On the other hand, in Asian households the opposite is true. Families live together so that children can support their parents. Refugee and immigrant parents especially rely on their children to support them through the retirement years; they don’t have fancy savings, 401Ks or pensions. Additionally, because of language and cultural barriers, parents often need their children to help them navigate a very complex system—whether for health care, transportation, or even the Internet.

But there’s more to it than mere dependency or even independence. To Asians, living with your parents–and supporting them–is how you show love and respect. That and buying them a new car.

Boundaries: Jillian wrote, “I am 27, and my boyfriend is 33. He is not allowed upstairs and has to sleep on the couch if he stays over.” Wait, you mean your parents know you have a boyfriend and they still allowed him to enter their home? Weird. We usually skip out on telling our parents and make up an excuse like we’re studying late at the library.

***

There are many reasons why millennials would choose to move back home with their parents—all of them perfectly reasonable. But let’s face it, Jillian’s story would not be a big deal if she weren’t White. The truth is, her story has already been experienced by thousands of Asian Americans. Most of the time, we tell these stories to scare our friends. “Dude, I moved back in with my parents and now my mom wants me to rub a coin on her back. Eeek!!!”

While millennials may think they’ve discovered something new and trendy, the bottom line is Asians have been doing this exact same thing for a very long time. For us, moving back in isn’t the problem, it’s figuring out how to move out!

So quit copying our stuff and thinking you just “discovered” it. You already stole coconut water and yoga. Boomerang generation? Ha! Let’s call this what it really is—Asian style.

How about everyone else out there? Do you have experiences moving back in with your parents? I’d love to hear it!

Advertisements

Moving in with your partner? Don’t forget to tell your parents.

Jennifer, a dear friend of mine, recently told me that she was considering moving in with her partner. I interpreted that to mean they were willing to wake up to each other’s morning breath and put up with dirty laundry…day, after day, after day. I can barely look at my own face in the morning (for much of the day in fact) so I’m not quite sure why anyone would willingly do it with another person.

Nevertheless, cohabitation has become increasingly common for the average American couple. “In 2011, the Census Bureau reported 7.6 million opposite-sex cohabiting couples in the country with a separate report listing the number of cohabiting same-sex couples at 514,735 as of the 2010 Census” (as reported by Wikipedia). No big deal, right? Right?

Wrong! A big fat WRONG!!! It is a big deal because most life decisions for Asian-Americans need to be run through our parents first. Jennifer is Vietnamese. Her plan was to introduce her parents to Steven, her boyfriend, over dinner. She was nervous about telling them what was on her mind. Why? Before I answer my own question, let’s take a step back.

***

When I lived in Cambodia you couldn’t even hang out with someone of the opposite sex without a third party to chaperone. It’s like the Holy Spirit was busy that day and someone else needed to sub in. “Sopha, eat rice already?” That’s how it would translate from Khmer. “Do you want to have lunch together?”

“Ok. Let me see if my extended family is free to join us.”

“What a delightful idea Sopha! Your family can observe our strictly plutonic and professional lunch to make sure there are no improprieties.”

Can you imagine what moving in with someone must take? There are a lot of social norms that guide dating, romance and marriage in many Asian cultures.

  • No kissing;
  • Don’t hang out alone where no one else can see you;
  • First dates are also the last date, then you marry;
  • Wedding first, house second, kids third;
  • Absolutely no living with the opposite sex before marriage.

There’s no simple explanation for why these cultural norms exist; it dates back many centuries and is very complicated. At the most basic level, Asian cultures see the realms of men and women as uniquely separate. Sometimes this comes out in really charming ways, like when my dad is expected to buy the car so that my mom can drive it (works out great for her). Other times, and quite commonly, things don’t go so well and women are oppressed and abused. They’re expected to run the house and raise the children while men can go off and get drunk. It’s basically Sunday Night Football every single day.

I admit these are extreme examples, but they illustrate why it’s hard for young Asian-Americans (man or woman) to cohabitate. Cultural norms are deeply ingrained into our thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes, we don’t even recognize it, and it may be difficult for other people to understand.

***

“My parents prefer that I marry a Vietnamese guy,” Jennifer said. Steven is White. For younger Asian-Americans, not a big deal at all. But I think Jennifer’s parents, along with many refugee and immigrant families, are concerned about the perceived language and cultural barriers.

“So how did it go when you told them you were thinking about moving in together?” I asked.

“Not good at all.” Apparently, Steven offered to cook dinner for everyone but her parents insisted on bringing something instead. It was a trap; her parents secretly wanted Steven to cook anyways because it’s a sign of being a good host. That never happened though. It was totally awkward and uncomfortable. Perhaps out of frustration, or maybe even disappointment, Jennifer’s mom finally suggested they just order pizza. For anyone not familiar with Asian culture, try to imagine the inverse scenario—going to a Chinese restaurant in New York City on Christmas. Alone. Get it now? It’s that bad.

I felt terrible for Jennifer and Steven and pondered what I would have done in their situation. If anyone is thinking about telling their parents they are moving in with their partner, here’s some advice that may help.

1. Don’t ever tell your parents you’re going to cohabitate! Just kidding. I’m a firm believer in having an open, honest and direct conversation with your parents about this important life decision, but you may have to massage it a bit. Reframe the news so it appears to benefit your parents too. “Mom, living together may actually improve my GPA and future earning potential. By sharing the cost of rent, I can save money now and invest that into a PhD program. I’ll become a doctor, and then both of our dreams will come true!”

2. Tell your partner to bring fruit. I’m dead serious. If your partner wants to show respect, they need to bring the gift of fruit. Mandarin oranges (cuties), mangos and pineapples are extremely popular choices. A cutie tells the parent, “I was at the grocery store and thought of you,” while a pineapple says “I could be your future son-in-law.” Choose wisely, but don’t go overboard. A single piece of fruit will go a long way. Trust me.

3. Take it one step at a time. I’ve learned many Asian parents need to take news in small doses. For example, before I began my career in non-profit, I joined the Peace Corps so that my mom would get used to the idea that I’d never make a doctor’s salary. The same applies to living with your partner. Talk about how expensive rent is, how you feel lonely at night, how the noises outside your window are terrifying, how cooking for one person is so hard, etc. Then break the news that you’re moving in with your partner. Of course, the potential risk here is they want you to move back home with them. Don’t do it!

4. Whatever your parents say, do the opposite. In Jennifer and Steven’s case, when her parents said they didn’t want Steven to cook dinner, it actually meant they did. Asian parents are tricky like that; you have to read between the lines. “Sweetie, I don’t care if you have children or not.” Translation: They expect 10 grandkids. “Being a social worker is a wonderful profession.” Translation: You are a failure and we need to boost your self-esteem before we crush it. “You and Steven should definitely move in together.” Translation: You two will live in our house and Steven will have the downstairs guest bedroom, far away from you.

5. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Finally, sometimes it takes a little finesse; give and take. Think about what you’re willing to give up in order to get what you want. “Look mom and dad, if you let me and Steven move in together right now, one of you can live with us after you retire.”

“Hmmm, you drive a hard bargain, but I dunno honey.”

“Fine, both of you!”

“Deal!”

***

When I later asked Steven about his experience, he said “I feel like I was set up for failure.” It was rough, but I really admired what he said next. “I’m trying to put myself in her mom’s shoes. They just want the best for their daughter, ya know?”

New Reality TV Show Has Parents Visiting their Child’s work

My parents have been working at Boeing for as long as I can remember. Back there was a thing at Boeing called Take Your Child to Work Day; I’m not sure if they still do it now. It was cool. My sister and I got to hang out with our dad and tour the giant facility he worked in. To be fair, 8 years old everything seemed gigantic. Come to think of it, at 30 year old and 5’6″, everything still seems gigantic. The experience gave me some insight as to what my dad does as a machinist, which frankly, is still way over my head. By his title, I gather that he works with machines.

So this Labor Day, as we celebrate American workers, it got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if Asian parents could visit their children at work for a day? Maybe then our parents would finally understand what we do? Maybe then they would stop bugging us about careers we have no talent for or interest in. So I came up with the idea of a new reality TV show–which I’m calling Take Your Parents to Work Day. It’s a mix between Undercover Boss and Trading Spaces.

***

Host: This week, we follow James and his parents as they explore the secret world of community development. Let’s see what they think about their son’s life choices.

James: WTF? Mom? Dad? What are you doing here? I’m working right now.

Dad:  We’re on reality tv! Wanted to see what you do for work so we can brag to all of our friends.

Mom: Show us around honey!

James: Ok…well uh…check this out mom. My office has a machine that automatically cleans your dirty dishes. We call it a dishwasher.

Mom: Oooo…so modern. Why don’t we have one at home?

James: You do. You just happen to use it to dry dishes instead of wash them.

Dad: I told you you were doing it wrong honey!

James: Here’s my standing desk where I spend a lot of time writing grants.

Dad: What are grants?

James: Grants are like scholarships for non-profit organizations.

Mom: What do you do with grants?

James: Many of the grants we receive go to academic and family programs. A few go to general operating, which pays for my time.

Dad: If grants pay for your time, why don’t you write a big grant and give yourself a raise? That way your mom would stop worrying so much.

James: Great question dad. I could give myself a raise…but that just means I would have to work harder and write more grants to pay for that raise. Or, I could just keep the salary I have now and work a little less.

Mom: I think you’re doing it wrong. Why don’t you try making more money and working less at the same? Like one of those people in Congress?

James: Uh…I don’t know how to answer that mom. Moving on, this is the conference room where I meet with other community leaders to talk about equity and social justice. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, someone will bring leftover scones or banh mi to share. Those are good days.

Mom: Sweetie, what is social justice?

James: It’s complicated, but I will try to explain. Social justice promotes equal opportunity for all people—whether it’s economic, political, social or cultural.

Dad: You sound like a communist. Are you communist? Because that would be really embarrassing for your mom and me. What would our neighbors think?

James: No dad! Communism is a socioeconomic system based upon common ownership. AirBnB is more communist than social justice is.

Dad: AirBnB?

James: Nevermind. Social justice is a movement based on the concept of human rights and quality. It’s actually very American—if you work hard, you will be rewarded. It shouldn’t matter what you look like, your beliefs or where you come from; every single person should have the same opportunities for success. But the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has these same opportunities. For example, women are still making less than men for doing the same job.

Mom: That can’t be true. Your sister makes way more than you, even though you’re a director.

James: Well…yes, that’s true mom. Shirley has made some better life choices than me. But we’re just one example, and you can’t compare a major tech company to a non-profit.

Dad: Ugh, my head hurts. I still don’t get what you do. Grants, social justice, dishwashers. This is all so confusing.

James: It’s alright dad. It takes time to understand. Fortunately, I’ll be working here for a while so you’ll have plenty more opportunities to see what I do.

Mom: For a while? NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! How will you ever find a wife?

[Transition to interview with the host]

Host: So Mr. and Mrs. Hong, what did you think of your son’s workplace and job?

Mom: What do I think? I’ll tell you what I *beep* think. Thinks he can save the world on pennies. He has a *beep* Master’s degree and this is what he *beep* *beep* does *beep* with his time.

James: Relax mom. I’m doing fine. This is a job that I love and am good job.

Mom: Don’t tell me to relax. I’m about to retire. Come here. You want the coin? You want the *beep* coin!?

James: Noooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[end scene]

***

Alright, I admit that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s how I got my parents to really understand my motivations and passion for the community work that I do. It wasn’t overnight. I had to take my parents to events, celebrations, and benefit dinners. It was all worth it though because one night, out of nowhere, my mom said “I am proud of you.” And I said, “Thanks mom.” Then she asked when I was gonna have children. “Damn it mom, can’t we just enjoy this moment?”

That’s why every single Asian child should take their parents to work, at least once. Even if you are a doctor, engineer or lawyer, your parents probably still have no idea what you do. Though maybe if you’re a lawyer, maybe you don’t want them to know?

Anyways, what does everyone think? Good idea or bad? What do you imagine your parents would say if they ever visited your work place?

5 things Asian children do that annoy the crap out of their parents

Hi everyone. So last week I wrote about 5 Annoying Things Every Asian Parent Says. I really appreciate all of the feedback and input I got from that post. It was great to see all of the responses from people who resonated with the post. To balance things out this week, I’m writing about some things that probably annoying Asian parents, which probably says more about me as a son than about Asian culture in general.

“Mom, dad, I want to be a social worker.”

Why it’s annoying to Asian parents: I had a conversation with my mom the other day and she recalled her experiences working in fast food and service to provide for my sister and me. All she wants in return is for us to have a good, well-paying job. On that level, I think children and parents want exactly the same thing.

Many Asian parents — especially those from recent immigrant or refugee families – make a lot of sacrifices to ensure their children have a chance at a healthy, happy and successful future. Basically, they don’t want us to screw it up because, ya know, that’d be a poor return on investment.

However, most parents and children disagree are on the types of careers and job that would lead to success. From the worldview that my parents have as refugees, professions like doctor, lawyer and engineer are seen as successful because they are high-paying, highly respected, and highly educated. Non-traditional jobs like social worker or community organizer don’t necessarily exist in Vietnam where my parents are from—at least not like they do in the United States. So it’s hard for some Asian parents to understand the full range of opportunities these types of jobs can afford.

What Asian children can do instead: I spent a lot of time trying to help my parents understand my career choice in non-profit work. I invited them out to our community gatherings, brought them to work with me, and had honest conversations about why it’s important to me. You need to show your parents you can be successful with your career choices, even if your definition of success differs. At the very least, you need health benefits. Your parents will be pissed if you don’t have health benefits. They don’t want to coin your back for the rest of their lives.

“I’m planning on renting an apartment in Seattle to be closer to work.”

Why it’s annoying to parents: Homeownership–one part Asian culture, two parts American dream. Or maybe it’s the other way around. When I first told my parents that I was planning on moving out, my mom insisted that I continue living at home, as opposed to renting, in order to save money. She even offered to help with a down payment on a new home if I stayed. I hear similar stories from other Asian friends.

I can only imagine the unstable housing and living conditions my parents endured while in refugee camps. I think that may explain, in part, the value my parents place in homeownership; it creates a sense of stability. The thought of their son renting an apartment seems like money down the drain.

What Asian children can do instead: If you want to rent a place and call it your home, I definitely don’t think you should back down from it—even if your parents may disagree. But use it as an opportunity to help them better understand your perspective and values. Communication is key. It’s important to explain why you want to move out, and some of the cultural differences behind those decisions.

We’re millenials! And we care about weird things our parents never did, like composting, selfies and global warming. Renting is a part of these cultural and generational differences. If they still disagree, rent a place anyways and then ask forgiveness. Then present to them a basket of oranges or a grandchild, both culturally appropriate ways to say you’re sorry.

“Sorry I forgot to call you back mom”

Why it’s annoying to parents: My mom is always calling me to check in now that I live in Seattle. Because of her own crazy work schedule, she usually calls while I am at work. By the end of the day, I’m so mentally exhausted that I either forget to call her back or don’t want to make the effort. It’s terrible of me. It’s not like these conversations would take up much of my time. Her limited English, coupled with my broken Vietnamese, makes for very short conversations. “Have you eaten rice yet?” “Yup, already.” “Ok, love you. Buh-bye.” Fine, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Asian families don’t say “I love you.”

As I get older and enter a new phase in my own life and career, my parents just want to check in and see what’s happening. At the very least, they want to make sure I’m still alive and didn’t starve to death since my cooking skills aren’t as awesome as theirs.

What Asian children can do instead: Freakin’ call your parents back! Do whatever it takes. Put it on your google calendar. Add it to your task list. Set an alarm. Whatever it takes! Just call your parents back. Or better yet, call them first and blow their minds away.

“Let’s go eat pizza.”

Why it’s annoying to parents: All my parents want to eat is Asian food. That’s it. “But mom, why don’t you try something new?” “Be adventurous.” “Who knows, you might like it.” Blah blah blah. They’ve heard it all. Despite my pleas, they always drift back to Asian food. It’s what they grew up on. They like it. It’s delicious to them. Yes, occasionally my parents eat pizza, but it’ll usually be without cheese and tomato sauce.

It’s really annoying to constantly be pestered about what you’re eating. Like a vegan who rubs it in your face they don’t eat animal products, or a gluten-free person who thinks they’re so cool even if they don’t have celiac disease, or someone who loves beef so much they’ll just tear up meat in front of your face, or someone who thinks the liquid diet is so fabulous they Instagram it at every opportunity. That’s how annoyed our parents must feel.

What Asian children can do instead: This isn’t a battle worth fighting. When you’re with your parents, just eat what they want to eat. Let it go. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat Asian food all the time; they’re Asian! Save the pizza and the Pepsi with your friends, or more Americanized younger cousins.

And of course…the dreaded silence.

Why it’s annoying to parents: Just because our parents may not initiate good conversations, doesn’t mean they don’t want to have them. I’m not sure what other Asian families are like, but in my family, there was a point when we just didn’t talk to each other. I had nothing I wanted to share with my parents. I assumed they wouldn’t be interested in sports, Facebook, hiking, etc. Basically, anything outside of school and high-paying jobs.

I later learned, through trial and error, that my parents have an opinion on a good number of things, like politics, social justice, vacationing, Justin Beiber, and why I still haven’t given them a grandchild. They just don’t initiate conversations.

What Asian children can do instead: Take the time to talk with your parents. Sometimes, you might ask them a question and their response is “I don’t know.” Don’t give up. Keep talking and find common ground. Your family, and the stories your parents have to share, are just too important and rich for silence to be the norm. We have to change that paradigm and start talking to each other.

***

Alright, that’s about all I could come up with. Any other ideas out there? Did I miss anything? What are some other things Asian children do that annoying their parents?

5 Annoying Things Every Asian Parent Says

My sister is visiting this week. For those of you who regularly read my blog (all three of you), you’ll probably remember that she has been living in London for the past few years and working for Amazon. She’s basically the anti-James—young, corporate and doesn’t need to coupon for groceries.

Whenever my sister is back in town, a lot of family-time follows. This past weekend, my parents, sister and I all had dinner together and got caught up on each other’s lives. Sometimes we have really healthy and productive conversations. We get to hear what my sister has been up to and my parents talk about their retirement plans, which thankfully does not involve living with me.

Other times, I feel like my parents are bullying me. Generally, this happens whenever we talk about education, careers or grandchildren. It’s annoying because I feel like they are never satisfied with what I do. I know my parents are well-intentioned and sincerely want the best for my sister and me, but they don’t always express it in the most effective ways. Here are a few examples of annoying things my parents say to me, and what I wish would come out of their mouths instead.

“Hey dad, I just got accepted into the University of Whateversville!!!”

Wrong answer: “Was it Harvard? Your cousin Billy got into Harvard. Why didn’t you?”

Why it’s wrong: Whenever we share good news, we want you to be excited for us. Not diminish that excitement by comparing it to “something better.” That’s a moving target and it’s unrealistic (except for the people who actually get into Harvard, like Cousin Billy). We work very hard and sometimes all we want is to be acknowledged for those efforts. School, for many teens and young adults, is probably one of the most stressful things we deal with. The ongoing misconceptions of the “model minority” doesn’t help either.

Here’s the right answer: “I am so proud that you got into the University of Whateversville. I know how difficult it was for you to take four AP classes, play varsity sports, captain the chess team to three state championships, and volunteer 500 hours at a local shelter. You even maintained a 4.00 GPA throughout high school…never mind that you tied for valedictorian with the two other Asian students in the school. We’re still happy for you!”

“Hey mom, I just got a new job!”

Wrong answer: “How much does it pay? Do you have benefits? Do you make more than your sister?”

Why it’s wrong: There’s a lot of pressure on young folks now-a-days to find successful careers. For many Asian Americans, success usually equals money. But this isn’t always true for millennials. Many of us are looking for careers where our skills, interests and passions all align. That might mean being a doctor or lawyer, but it can also mean being an artist, teacher or community developer (that’s me). We’re not looking for careers that are defined by money and salary, but by values and purpose.

Here’s the right answer: “Sweet! Let’s go celebrate. Do you want bubble tea? Or half a beer? I know how red your face can get. We look at your selfies on Facebook. You’re so cute on social. By the way, you can come home for dinner anytime you need. No community-developer-son-of-mine is going hungry.”

“Hey, I’m thinking about renting an apartment in Seattle. Can I borrow your van to move?”

Wrong answer: “Rent!? Waste of money. You should continue to live at home, save money, and then buy a house. So what if it takes you another ten years to do it. Save money!”

Why it’s wrong: That’s what you get for sending us off to college. We got a taste of the real world and it was delicious—like a bowl of pho. Now we never want to come home. There is nothing more rewarding than living on your own, even if that means renting. You remember all of those people who had their homes foreclosed during the housing crisis? They would have been better off renting. Millenials love renting. Renting gives us flexibility and keeps us mobile. We love mobile. Aspiring to buy a home isn’t everyone’s “American dream” anymore; winning our fantasy football league is. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to rent—especially with the prices in Seattle skyrocketing. So we appreciate that the door back home is always open to us. It means a lot, even if we do complain a crap ton.

Here’s the right answer: “Here are the keys to the van. No need to fill up the tank. Also, since you live in Seattle now, we most likely won’t ever come to visit you because Fremont is terrifying.”

“I’m in a serious relationship and I want you to meet them.”

Wrong answer: “Is he/she Chinese? Japanese? Vietnamese? Black? Lawyer? Muslim? Doctor?”

Why it’s wrong: Millennials have much different views when it comes to dating and relationships. The Pew Research Center reports that interracial marriage is on the rise among millennials. We’re not looking at a person’s race or job as a deciding factor—though we acknowledge those experiences greatly shape who the person is. We’re looking for x-factors like “awesomeness” and “hipness.” Do you know how difficult meet someone with high levels of awesomeness? Or finding someone who is hip, but not hipster hip? It’s harder than finding an Asian who is bad at math. Needle in a haystack hard. So when we find someone that we finally want to bring home, we want you to be happy for us. Because, who knows, we might end marrying them.

Here’s the right answer: “I can’t wait to meet him/her. And only him/her. Please use protection.”

“Mom, dad, I’m getting married!”

Wrong: “WTF? You? Married? Muahahahahahaha! But you’re not even a doctor. How can you afford a ring? You did get a ring, right?”

Why it’s wrong: So…I got nothing here. I’m actually not married myself, so….um…good luck with this one! If you’re engaged, please let me know how it goes and what you wish your parents would have said.

Here’s the right answer: “Congrats…?”

***

How about everyone else? What are some things your parents say that annoy you? And what do you wish they’d say instead?

Being a Nguyener: Why Asians need to celebrate success

When I was in the third grade, my now best friend (back then he was just another 80s baby with a mullet) invited me to play on his soccer team; his dad was the coach. Soccer provided a wonderful and much needed escape from the rigors of school and homework. Even though I was only in third grade, my parents already had me doing calculus, performing surgeries, coining their backs, and giving them their annual dental exams—my tiny fingers gave me a competitive advantage in oral health.

I loved playing soccer. But it was never a passion or excitement that my parents shared. I remember one game in particular. During the game, I scored my first goal ever and became rabid with excitement. Yes, rabid. My first goal! Who knew when the next goal would ever come (answer: 9 years later in a high school JV game).

Afterward, when my teammates and other parents came up to congratulate me, my mom was there and she replied “He’s so proud. He’s so excited.” As a kid, that stuck with me vividly because I wanted my mom to share that pride and excitement too. I wanted her to feel like it was her goal, even though, let’s be real, I did all of the work.

This has been one of the ongoing challenges of growing up Asian; feeling like your hard work goes unnoticed. Can anyone else relate to this? Or is it just me? I’m not talking about the big stuff like graduations or birthdays, but little things like soccer games and winning Halo deathmatches. I’ve also been in situations where other people diminish my successes. How many of us Asians have had a parent tell us a B+ isn’t good enough? Or even an A-? Or that we will never succeed if we don’t go to med school?

Anyways, curious about how other people celebrate success, I googled it. A lot of the results that came back gave advice like:

  • Buy yourself a banana split from your favorite ice cream store.
  • Give yourself permission to take a day off and relax.
  • Go to lunch with your best friend.
  • Buy yourself a new shirt.
  • Get yourself an iPod.
  • Whistle.

I spent a good 15 minutes browsing through the list and thought “This is the worst advice ever.” First off, I wouldn’t even know what to do with 1000 iPods (Get it? I’m saying I succeed a lot. 1000 times a lot!) And whistle? Really? Some people actually whistle to celebrate success? My problem with this sort of advice is that it doesn’t actually celebrate success, but turns it into a series of rewards. If you read my post on success vs failure, you’ll understand why I can’t stand this. And seriously, I don’t need to give myself permission to take a day off and relax; my boss does.

Celebrate everything

I think we have become paralyzed with waiting for “the right time” to celebrate success: waiting for the weekend, combining it with another occasion because it’s more efficient, etc. I’m of the mindset that we should celebrate everything…immediately. Big things and small things. Success and failure. Perfection and mediocrity. B+’s and A-‘s. Why put off a good thing?

Share appreciation

The second thing we should start doing in regards to success is share appreciation. Basically, don’t keep good thoughts to yourself. If someone did something remarkable, you should tell them! “Way to get into grad school Susan! Just steer clear of predatory lenders and you’ll be just fine.” Even if someone did something mediocre, you should still affirm them. “Way to get into grad school Susan! Just steer clear of other Asian students and you’ll be just fine.” I don’t know how we’ve come to this point in society, but we rarely share our positive thoughts directly to our friends, family and colleagues; choosing to silently post updates on Facebook instead. Look, if someone did something awesome, you should let them know.

As a quick reference, here are a few scenarios you and your friends may have encountered in life and the appropriate responses for each.

A Beginners Guide to Celebrating Success

Scenario Appropriate response
Got a B on your O-Chem test? High five!!!
Applied to ten different jobs and only one called you back. You are deserving of a gold star.
Talked to a random stranger in the bar because you can tell from across the room that they are glimmering with inner beauty and has a 75% chance of sharing your passion for social justice and racial equity? Next round is on me, champ 😉
Started a career in community development. Here’s a lucky red envelope full of money. You’ll need it!
30 years old and still unmarried? I know someone. They’re an artist, will make your life beautiful.
Recently discovered that you want to marry an artist? More red envelopes!!!
Failed your first driving test? Don’t worry, paralleling parking got me too.
Your Executive Director just left to start a new organization. Karaoke party!!!
Never mastered the piano? Here’s a subscription to Pandora!
Scored a goal in soccer? Aww, so proud of you! Now you must practice 10 hours a day and score every time.

How Asians can manage their stress effectively

These past couple of weeks have been excruciatingly stressful for me. It has probably been the lowest point in my entire career.

FML.

I wish I were two years old again. My mom can swaddle me and make everything better. Two is an appropriate age to be swaddled, right? Meh, forget it. Someone needs to swaddle me right now.

Anyways, I’ve been receiving advice and support from various colleagues and peers in order to help me navigate this challenging time. Here’s what I got.

Organize your tasks: Someone suggested that I write down everything I have on my plate and organize it using the “Urgent/Important Matrix.” You start with items that are important and urgent, and then move counterclockwise in the matrix. I thought it was a superb idea and recommended the matrix to other staff members. Unfortunately, I myself haven’t around to using it because I listed “Use Urgent/Important Matrix” in the not urgent and not important square. I should have planned that better…

Important Not important
Urgent Start here. This is third.
Not Urgent Then move here. Do these last.

Learn to say no and take a step back: Another piece of advice that I got was to take a step back. It has always been really hard for me to say “no” to other people. It makes me feel like I’m letting them down. As an Asian American I feel an intense pressure to always take on more and more work. As a result, I’m taking things on faster than I can clear them off of my plate. I’m learning that I need a break too. I used this strategy last weekend in fact. “No mom, I can’t come home to see you this weekend. I’m learning to take a step back and trying to figure out what kidneys do. Love you!” Whew, I felt so much better.

Assume everything is in your control: In the Greek mythology, Sisyphus was forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill only to watch it fall back down, and to continue this for all eternity. That’s how I was feeling–powerless and helpless. Whenever I cleared one thing from my plate, two more would get piled on. It happened over and over again. A lot of people have told me to just admit that not everything is in your control. I completely disagree. We need the opposite kind of attitude. Everything is in our control. One of the biggest challenges people face when they are stressed out is feeling helpless. But if we give into this feeling, then we surely will be. We need to start believing that we have the skills and competencies to affect change in all aspects of our lives. Just because a solution isn’t readily apparent, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Ask for support: To be clear, just because everything is in our control, doesn’t mean we need to do everything by ourselves! Everyone needs help and support. I have often felt a very competitive “go at it alone” approach within the Asian American culture. Our parents are always comparing us to other kids, and medical schools are only going to admit so many applicants. The #1 thing I love most about working at VFA is that my coworkers are always asking me “How can I support you?” Sometimes, I tell them; other times I reply “I don’t know how you can help right now, but thanks.” It is such as relief to know that other people are looking out for you. Sisyphus would have had a much easier time pushing that boulder if he had some friends to help…or if he had gone to medical school instead of working for a non-profit and can afford to hire movers to do the work for him.

Stop being the model minority: Asians have been telling the world for decades that we’re really not as perfect as everyone thinks. We’re not the so-called model minority. We’re not all good at math; not blindly obedient; we don’t all know karate (only 89% of us do); we’re not all bad kissers; and our English is pretty good. So when it comes to stress, we must also push back and show the world we’re not perfect. Awesome yes, perfect no. We must resist perfectionism and tell people how we feel. Showing frustration and emotions are ok; bottling up your stress and anger is not. It’s like shaking up a can of soda. Sooner or later that can is going to explode and create a big, sticky, sweet, delicious mess.

Take a deep breath and be nice: Yoda once said “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Stress works the same way. For example, we fear failing. If we don’t manage it safely and positively, that stress can turn into anger. Has this ever happened to you? You’re having a bad day when a coworker makes an innocent, well-intentioned joke or comment and you go off on them. You want to punch them. Maybe you do. At the very least, you start yelling at them and then they’re like “Huh? I’m was only kidding. Calm down. Geez.” This only makes you more incensed. If you ever find yourself in this situation, take a deep breath and remember to be nice. Always be nice, especially when it’s hard. Be nice, and then ask for support.

Have fun! My official moto for work is “Fun and done” (trademarked). I think there’s a lot of truth to this. Work isn’t about being miserable, but about having as much fun as possible. We should do what we love and enjoy, even when bad days are inevitable. Have fun and get your work done. That’s it.