Tag Archives: career

Are you treated like a child at work? 6 ways to respond.

Hi everyone! It’s my third week as a new Executive Director and I’m starting to feel settled into the role. All of the nightmares I had about team meetings have gone way. The staff are also starting to show me the respect I deserve. I’ve asked them to address me with the title bác, which is a Vietnamese word used when speaking to elders. “Hello Bác James. Let me help you up the stairs.” “Bác James, tell us what it was like to use a flip phone.”  “Bác James, my tummy is hurting again.” Go see a doctor then! You have health insurance benefits! “Bác, why didn’t you become a pharmacist?” Ugh, youth these days…so disrespectful.

I’ve previously written about how race and ethnicity can impact people’s perception of leadership. Similarly, age and the perceptions of experience can also be challenging–especially for Asian Americans where cultural norms around these issues are very powerful. Many of the challenges I have experienced in my career are because people viewed me as too young (other challenges include not knowing how to Tweet and Snapchat). It’s like I am a Vietnamese, non-profit, social justice version of Justin Beiber.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about similar challenges she was having. We wondered how young leaders can make a meaningful impact in our careers when our age and perceived lack of experience become barriers to success. It becomes very tiring because it makes us second-guess everything we do. For example, it took me a very long time to see myself as an Executive Director. Fortunately, I had the support from mentors, friends and colleagues who pushed me in that direction. While I am grateful for this opportunity, I recognize there are so many other young professionals who are ready to step up too.

Here are some comments that I’ve received and how I have responded to each of them. For anyone looking for an extra bit of help, you can also read my article “7 Ways for young Asians professionals to get respect.”

“You look so young. Are you a volunteer?”

Just because some of the students we serve are taller than me, doesn’t make me a volunteer. What’s up with always associating youthfulness with volunteerism? They don’t necessarily go hand in hand. When I was in the Peace Corps, I had the honor of serving with volunteers who were already retired; one was a dean of a graduate school; and some volunteers were in their 40s and 50s. Assuming that just because all young people are volunteers is rude, and doesn’t acknowledge the skills and perspectives we bring into the work. It is also a disservice to actual volunteers–the ones who give up their time and energy to support their community.

How you can respond: “I’ll make you a deal. If you donate to my organization, I’ll tell you what type of moisturizer I use. Spoiler alert: It has coconut extract! But no, I’m not a volunteer, though I really appreciate all of the passion and support they bring to our work. My role as a staff member is to make sure that we’re enabling our volunteers, students and community members to succeed.”

“Is this your job? Do you get paid?”

What is this? Do people assume millennials just sit around drinking craft beer and organic coffee all day? We only do that after 5:30pm or when we’re singing karaoke. Of course I have a job! How else do you expect me to survive? It sure as hell ain’t from blogging. All of those stereotypes that millennials can’t find employment and have to live at home with their parents are crap. AHHHHHH!!!! BLARGHH!!!!!! UGH!!!!!!

How you can respond: Listen Mom, you’re crushing my individuality! Yes, this is my job. And I already told you, I’m never going to be the doctor you wanted me to be. I’m not like every other Asian kid. I want to help our community.

Side note: If you actually did become a doctor, then simply replace “doctor” with “lawyer” and “help our community” with “make money and live debt free.”

“I’m not sure if you have the experience quite yet.”

This comment annoys me the most. It’s condescending, like people think they’re doing young professionals a favor by “protecting” them from failure. We can only get the experience if we are given the opportunities to learn, grow, make mistakes, and succeed. Society said that everyone needs a higher education to be successful. Many of us did exactly that. How much more experience do you want?

How you can respond: Although your gut reaction might be to face palm whoever made the comment, it is critical that you resist this impulse. As Asians, there’s a cultural norm not to question authority or challenge the status quo. Humbleness and humility are important, but don’t be a push over. Advocate for yourself! Try this:

I realize there’s still a lot I can learn in this field/position/role/etc. I would really appreciate any feedback or suggestions you have. I want to respectfully push back though. I’m willing to work hard and give this role my all, but that will also require your support to enable that success. I’d love to work with you to figure out ways I can get the coaching and training you think I’ll need. Thanks a bunch, you’re totes awesome.

“Look kid, I love the enthusiasm, but you’re out of your league. I’m 62, which makes me twice as smart and good looking.”

So…no one has actually ever said this to me before. I don’t give them a chance to. I walk around with my head up; ready to stiff arm anyone as if I were Marshawn Lynch. We millennials are bad asses! Organic buying, gluten-free, ride-sharing, socially conscious, bad asses.

How you can respond: I’m sorry you feel that way but I beg to differ. I grew up in the generation that invented Facebook and transformed social media. Our vote helped put the first African-American President in the White House. We embrace marriage equality and women’s rights. And yes, despite what you might think, we do care very much about money and the economy. Even though we didn’t have anything to do with The Great Recession, you’re welcome for the bailout. So if you’re done with your anti-millennial tirade…do you have a usb charger I can borrow? My phone died and I super need to check my Farmville score.

Wow! You’re such an exception.

Though this may seem like flattery, don’t fall for the trap. Singling you out as an exception (even though we’re all exceptional individuals) is a disservice to all of the other smart and talented young professionals out there. It pits us against one another, but we must stay strong and united. That’s one of the main reasons I started Asian Happy Hour, to find and support other young leaders in our community…and because going to happy hour alone is really sad.

How you can respond: Thanks…I think. What exactly do you mean by that, if I may ask? From my experience, there are a lot of talented young professionals out there. I’m happy to introduce you to them if you’d like.

“Can I ask you how old you are? For anyone who works in a management or director level position–or position where you have power and authority over other employees–never ask an employee their age! The HR in me says it opens the door to age discrimination–real or perceived. You don’t want to go down that road. But on a peer-to-peer level, it’s just rude. It’s like asking someone their weight. The only difference is people can lose weight, but you can’t lose age. No sir…can’t lose it at all…your age just gets bigger and bigger every year…for the rest of your life…until you die… Then you’ll be reincarnated and the cycle begins anew. Why is life so hard!!!?

How you can respond: So are you asking me for my permission to ask me how old I am? Or are you directly asking me how old I am? If the former, then no, you may not. If the latter, why don’t you just say “How old are you?” to which I would respond “I’ll only tell you if you have sincere intentions to celebrate my birthday with ice cream and candles. Otherwise, none of your business!”


7 Ways for young Asians professionals to get respect (hint: look older)

Last week I became the next Executive Director for the Vietnamese Friendship Association. One of the things I’ve had to wrestle with–especially as a young and new Executive Director–is the age difference between me and a lot of veteran leaders in this field and community. I’ve previously written about a generational gap and what we can do to support emerging leaders in our community.

While I believe I have the skills and experience to guide the organization and be a strong advocate in the community, I’ve also found that looking older affords me instant street cred.

In the Asian culture, there’s a strong association between age, experience and respect. In some ways, this is reflected in American culture as well–like when we hang on to every sweet word Morgan Freeman says. Naturally, we assume that those who are older have more experience (knowledge or wisdom…) and thus deserve more respect.

Don’t get me wrong, people with experience and knowledge and wisdom deserve our respect. In fact, we owe our unqualified respect to every human being we meet. However, for a young Asian American professional, the perceptions of age and youth are still very challenging to overcome precisely because of cultural expectations. I can’t tell you the number of times people have mistaken me for a high school student. Do you know how hard it is to run an organization when everyone thinks you’re a volunteer? It’s defeating–like being down 16-0 at half time.

At times, I have found myself changing the way I look, the way I talk, even the way I walk, in order to project the appearance that I’m older. It is exhausting! To my fellow Asian Americans, if you’re finding it hard to get the respect and opportunities you need to succeed, try one of these tricks below to “enhance” your age and get you on the fast track for success.

Rule #1: Become a doctor. Just kidding. That’s a terrible idea.


Start smoking! There was a study that compared identical twins, “one of which had been smoking for at least five years longer than the other.” They found that “smokers’ upper eyelids drooped while the lower lids sagged, and they had more wrinkles around the mouth.” Basically, all I took out of this study was that smokers looked older and therefore got more respect!

One twin smoked, the other didn’t. They looks years apart!



Visit a tanning booth: Can’t afford a lifetime of smoking? Tanning beds are your next best option. They instantly add years to your age. You can take a quick nap inside one of these and wake up ten years older! Btw, for those who care about “science,” tanning beds emit an unsafe concentration of UVA rays which is damaging to your skin and can lead to skin cancer. Worth it?

asian tan
You’ll never believe how old these girls really are!


Wear hipster glasses: Whenever I walk into a meeting where I want to look older and wiser, I put on my favorite pair of thick rimmed hipster glasses. These glasses add between 2-4 years to my appearance. In Asian years, I’ll look equivalent to the age of an undergrad. Ok fine! Middle schooler…

The boy above is actually 9 years old. But thanks to hipster glasses, he looks 14!
The boy above is actually 9 years old, but thanks to hipster glasses, he looks 14!


Dress Professionally: A friend and mentor once told me that I need to come into meetings well-dressed. Not suit and tie per say, but respectable, which meant no jeans or t-shirts. “You never know who you’re going to run into at these meetings,” he said. “So you don’t want them to think you’re a student.” He had a good point.

This is a high school graduation photo. Dressing professional works!
This is a high school graduation photo, but look how old we all look! Dressing professional works.


Eat lots of junk food: Researchers have found that high levels of phosphates accelerate signs of aging. Where does one get phosphates? Sodas and processed foods! So this is an easy win. If you want to look older, simply park it on the couch, turn on the tv and grab a Coke and a smile.

The boy on the left is ahead of all his classmates!
The boy on the left is growing faster than all his classmates! Eat up!


Practice effective sleep deprivation: WebMC writes that “chronic sleep loss can lead to lackluster skin, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes.” It’s true. Ask any stressed out millennial; they look like they’re already nearing retirement age. Toss in some hipster glasses, and you’re basically telling the world you’re ready for an early grave.

Lose sleep to gain years. It’s an easy formula.


Become an Executive Director: This is my first ED role and already the number of grey hairs on my head have increased by 30%; I’m waking up with back pain; and I’m pretty sure the hearing in my right ear is starting to go out. Bottom line: If you really want to fast track looking older, then become an Executive Director.

Director Hong–VFA’s second youngest ever Executive Director.


Wear a turtleneck: Turtlenecks are so effective at making you look older, even Justin Beiber does it. Check out the before and after photo below. He instantly goes from a baby to a solid 8 years old.

beiber baby
These photos were taken just minutes apart. See how a turtleneck can add years to your age?


Just to be clear, most of these are pretty terrible ideas if you want to look older–except maybe dressing professional and wearing hipster glasses. They are actually safe and effective.

The truth is, we shouldn’t need to change who we are in order to confirm to other people’s expectations. Young professionals have all the skills and talents needed to make meaningful contributions to their work and community. We just need opportunities! Next week I’ll share how I have personally navigated these complex social and professional situations.

In the mean time, I’d love to hear everyone’s experience with age and youthfulness. Has it impacted your work? Do other people perceive you differently? Are you getting the right opportunities? What’s your relationship been like with bosses or managers? Leave your comments below or on the Asian Slant facebook page.

To everyone who ever thought Asians make terrible leaders…

Holy crap! Last week was crazy. And I’m not talking about the Seahawks whoopin’ on the Panthers type of crazy (which was awesome btw). I was offered the Executive Director position, which I accepted on the condition that they let me keep my standing desk. You can read the Board President’s announcement if you’re curious. And also, as an ED newly born into this world, you can read my  adorable first words.

Everything is still very new and happening fast. I’ve only been on the job three days and have had to make 128 decisions so far–from the mundane “What kind of socks does a new ED wear?” to the philosophical “How to honor the Vietnamese culture and heritage while being inclusive of other communities?”

I’m very excited for this new position and am honored to have the opportunity to serve the Vietnamese community at this level. I promise to use all of my skills and experiences to help advance the successes of the Vietnamese and broader Asian American community. I’m especially grateful to everyone who has supported me on this journey.

Anyways, I’ve been getting a ton of emails, Facebook messages and texts on my phone since the announcement went out, and have been doing my best to keep up and respond to each and every one of them. Many folks have been asking me questions about the new role, and I’ve summarized a snippet of them below.

How’s it feel?

It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions that range from “another plain ol’ day at the office” to “Holy crap, I’m on the edge of my seat freaking out because I might actually be slipping off but I need to take a selfie first, omg what do I do?” (aka, Disney’s Space Mountain).

The other night I literally had my first ED nightmare. I dreamed I was trying to lead a staff meeting but everyone was jumping up and down on the tables, drinking and partying. “No one respects me,” I thought. “I’m a terrible ED.” Times like these I just want to be swaddled.

Why did you choose now to become an Executive Director?

This was something I was on the fence about for a while; I was very hesitant and went back and forth. My rationale, at the time, was that I was already able to serve the community in meaningful ways. I was very happy and comfortable where I was at.

Ultimately, after the previous ED left, the space and separation gave me a chance to practice my leadership in new ways within the organization. It helped me visualize my potential role as a new Executive Director, and the skills and perspective that I could contribute to the position.

We had to navigate complex partnerships and I thought “I can do this.” We had to make difficult decisions of types of funding we wanted to pursue or not and I thought “I can do this.” We had to say goodbye to some really wonderful staff and I thought “I can do this.” I had to email the staff to let them know that we ran out of ice cream in the freezer and I thought “I can do this.” Then the staff mutinied, demanded more ice cream, wanted my head on a pike, and I thought “This sucks.”

What kind of leadership do you bring to the organization?

I previously wrote about task-oriented people and relationship-oriented people. If you ever came to me with a problem, my first instinct would be to break the problem down into small steps, and move through them one by one. I’m super task-oriented. This is a strength that I bring to the organization.

Overtime, I also learned that I needed to develop my “people skills” in order to strengthen my leadership. I practiced skills like “active listening” and “compassion” and “empathy.” For example, before when people wanted my time and attention, I would ignore them…like parents to me. Now, whenever someone talks to me, I reply with “Uh huh” and nod my head. Effective leadership rocks!

Are you vegan like your predecessor?

A lot of folks have wanted to take me out to lunch to celebrate and have been asking, “Your last ED was a vegan. Does that mean you’re one too? Are all EDs vegan? James, do you want carrots and hummus?”

My definitive answer is “Heck no.” I enjoy the taste, smell and look of meat. Honest to goodness, I can stare at a piece of meat for hours without blinking. I admit, however, that I have recently switched to a “no cooking meat at home” diet, which has been a great exercise in more sustainable cooking. At the same time, it’s increased my meat cravings tenfold as well as my obsession with zombie flicks.

Wow, your parents must be proud of you!

They are! I think…

Their initial reply was “Executive Director!!! Why not Mayor? Or City Council? Or Amazon, like your sister.” Ugh, that brought me back to my school days when even an A- would disappoint Asian parents.

What vision do I see for the organization and for the community?

Ok, this is a big question. In this blog, I’ve written about challenges that impact that Vietnamese and broader Asian American community. For example, the need for more inclusive early learning programs, promoting civic engagement in the Vietnamese community, transforming how we approach youth development, and broader social justice issues.

I also want to focus internally on the organization. It’s critical we have an organizational culture and structure that will support and nurture our staff and volunteers, and provide a safe environment where everyone can work with dignity and be compensated for their skills, passion and service. For starters, disconnecting people from their work email when they’re not at work!

What are you going to do in your first month?

Huh? Is this a test? Quit asking me so many hard questions. Realistically, I’ll be spending the first month checking in with all of our staff and board to listen to their vision and dreams for VFA and the community, where they see themselves growing, and any anxieties or concerns they may have about me as ED…because I probably have them too!

Then I’ll meet with all of our board members to thank them profusely for hiring me, and to beg them even more profusely not to fire me within the first month.

Finally, I’ll reach out to our community members, supporters, funders and donors to discuss the vision and direction that VFA is headed.

Oh yeah, buy some more ice cream for the freezer too—lest I want another revolt.


Anyways, thanks again everyone. If you have any advice for me on how to be a good leader, how to honor our communities, and what kind of ice cream I should buy, I’d love to hear it! Leave your comments below or on the Asian Slant facebook page.

Disconnect from your phone! A New Year’s Resolution Every Asian Should Take to Heart

Happy New Year everyone!I hope you all had a restful holiday.

I for one am ready to get going in 2015 and have my resolution picked out. I know some people–especially at my age–think resolutions are lame and antiquated, but I beg to differ. Resolutions are a great way to get energized and motivate oneself for healthy life changes.

My resolution this year, as it has been every single year since college, is to be more awesome. And so far, I have never failed—except in 2005, the year of eternal darkness. 2005 was the year of the monkey, who is a great enemy to pigs, my animal spirit (I was born in 1984). Anyways, I don’t talk about 2005 anymore; I turned 21 that year…

In order to achieve greater awesomeness, I have specifically resolved to disconnect my work email from my smartphone. I know what you’re thinking, “OMG. O.M.F.G. How can a man who works at a non-profit afford a smartphone?” Relax y’alls. It’s a Windows Phone.

Now-a-days, everyone talks about how kids are always on their phones. What adults don’t realize is that we’re exactly the same way! But instead of using our phones to Snapchat, Tweet or play Candy Crush, we use them to work. As if I don’t get enough of work at work.

There’s been a lot of talk in America about a dangerous trend toward overworking, especially in regards to white-collar workers and exempt staff who don’t punch cards to track their hours. Many conversations I’ve had with my Asian peers anecdotally confirm this trend. “I just got scheduled to another meeting this evening.” “My boss keeps emailing me at 2 am.” “My inbox has over a thousand emails!”


I too have felt the constant need to work from my phone. Though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how or why, I believe it is a product of cultural norms and external expectations. Things like having to be the highest achieving student later translated into being the highest achieving worker. Others might say that Asians have a culture of obedience, which frankly, I don’t really buy. We Asians can be very vocal and opinionated when we want to be. Besides, everyone is working more! Not just Asians.

Motherjones.com provided an excellent summary on this topic. Here’s some pretty alarming data.

  • 60% of smartphone-using professionals kept in touch with work for a full 13.5 hours per day, and then spent another 5 hours juggling work email each weekend. That’s 72 hours a week of job-related contact.
  • 68% checked work email before 8 a.m., 50% checked it while in bed, and 38% “routinely” did so at the dinner table.
  • People who make more than $75,000 per year are more likely to fret that their phone makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about work.

Unfortunately, the result isn’t increased productivity—just the illusion of it. The reality is we’re inundated with more distractions and stress than ever. In my own work, I’m finding it harder to focus on tasks and projects when a new email is interrupting my workflow every minute. Most of them aren’t even important. Most of them are useless bulk cc’s from other people and annoying mailing lists.

I’m learning that a smartphone, while amazing, is also draining my energy. A smartphone has increased my volume of work, but not necessarily the quality. It has allowed me to extend my work day up to 24 hours, and even send  emoticons too, like 🙂 and :p. So not only did others see me working more, but they also thought I was happier doing it. That’s a recipe for burnout. Technology has made our work increasingly flexible and mobile; yet this same technology has also increased our overall workload. Because we’re now able to literally carry work in our pockets 24/7, we have also felt compelled to work 24/7.

I admit, I didn’t mind the constant connection at first. I love what I do and am grateful to have the opportunity. In fact, a good day work actually gives me energy. But overtime, I have come to realize that it’s not the only thing I love doing. Spending time with my friends and family, playing sports, camping…all of these activities give me energy too, as well as wonderful memories.

I fully admit that work, for some people, has evolved beyond the traditional 9-5. Some people are most productive at night, others in the mornings. And that’s great. I personally prefer the 10-6 schedule. But again, this doesn’t mean we have to work every single waking hour or minute just because the phone is in our pockets. There are more important things we can put in our pockets…like quarters, chewing gums, hands and puppies.

While I may have made a conscious decision to disconnect in my own life, all around me I have colleagues, peers and partners who haven’t. So there’s still that external expectation and pressure to immediately reply emails. This needs to move beyond an individual decision. As employers, we also need to recalibrate our standards and expectations in order to create a new norm for all of our staff.

The bottom line is: you should disconnect anytime you’re not at work.


It’s been two weeks since I have disconnected my work email from the phone and it’s felt like walking on sunshine. I’ve danced with bartenders in pubs, enjoyed fireside chats by the ocean, and received a $50 Olive Garden gift card from my mom. Who knew disconnecting from work could bring so much happiness? To be fair, it was the just holidays and many folks were out, so only time will tell. But I’m feeling pretty confident that my work and personal life won’t fall into ruins because of being disconnected.


Maybe I’m wrong and shit will hit the fan tomorrow. If this happens, then I will quickly reconnect my work email to my phone, sincerely apologize to all I have hurt by my actions, and promise to make better life decisions moving forward.

How about everyone else out there? How do you achieve separation from work?

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?