I want to start this post by getting something out of the way. A year ago, I wrote a piece on Yow Yow! sharing a difficult childhood moment that I faced that had to do with my identity – my ethnicity. It was challenging for me to write to begin with. After it was posted, I received backlash (from an individual), which resulted in me having a panic attack on my way to work. It was yet another moment in my life where I felt isolated and even having this platform for nearly nine years at the time, I was made to feel like I had done something wrong.
In the last few years, I’ve started to share more about my life when I can muster up the courage. It is never my intention to offend anyone. With every sensitive post I consider writing, I send a first draft and sometimes a second draft to Veronica before posting. I want to make something clear. I’m not a journalist. No one currently writes on Yow Yow! except for me. I’m not trying to push my opinions onto anyone else. You can choose to not read Yow Yow! ever if something I say upsets you. I never come in expecting my experiences to resonate with anyone. I consider myself lucky if I get just one person that can relate, but it is okay to walk away from this and not feel anything. We all process experiences and feel emotions differently towards a variety of things and that is fine.
That one day of backlash from one person wasn’t great. I was only able to get over it after receiving messages from people that thanked me for sharing my story because it is often stories from Asian Americans that get overlooked because we don’t fit in. At its core, Yow Yow is here to share the stories of others, which we’ve done so many times and mine when I feel brave.
I started a new job a couple of weeks ago, which is never easy. The other night, I was invited to dinner with my coworkers and a question that was thrown out to the table was “what were your lunches like growing up?” In this moment, I was appreciative that my coworkers expressed curiosity because what that time represented for me was shame. In my first few days of Kindergarten my parents sent me off with leftovers from dinner the night before – a standard of rice with marinated beef or chicken prepared by my mother. Delicious, but what some may consider “potent smelling”. My attempt to blend in wasn’t working. I needed a meal that smelled more like a bologna sandwich.
I often times wonder to this day if my parents were hurt by me asking, “Can I please just have a Lunchables every day?” “Can I have a Capri-Sun?” “Can my peanut butter jelly sandwiches be cut into 4’s or at the very least halves?”
A lot of “Can I’s” in an attempt to feel like everyone else. I’m certain that it wasn’t much more work for my parents to adhere to my requests, but likely more expensive. They wanted me to be happy and we all wanted to fit in, right?
For the longest time, I used to say that I grew up mostly never having Asian friends or identifying with that part of my life. But I wasn’t really trying, was I? I wanted the things that everyone else had: A normal lunch, to run for student government, to be decent in school, but nowhere near an overachiever because that would put me in a stereotype. I longed to be good at sports, but that was never going to happen.
At the same time I was confused. I didn’t have the idols that everyone else had. I loved the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, but I couldn’t relate to them ever. For me, there was Lucy Liu, Mulan, Julie from The Puzzle Place, the yellow Power Ranger, and Kimi from Rugrats. As I got older, I admired Lisa Ling and Suchin Pak. I sometimes get annoyed at the articles that are saying that we are having a moment now, but the truth is, everyone has been hustling. We’ve always been here, but never truly seen.
This chapter in my life is called embracing. Leslie, Tommy and I got tickets for Crazy Rich Asians the night that it opened and I had been looking forward to it all week. I laughed at the jokes that I knew my family could relate to. I smiled from my nearly front row seat looking up at Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) because she was a heroine in this film. By the last quarter of the film, my entire face was wet and the tears were flowing. I couldn’t articulate why, but I knew it meant something powerful to me. It was this idea that even though Nick’s family looked like Rachel, she was a stranger and could never be seen as anything close to family. It’s so hard to talk about the film without giving spoilers away, but there are many themes within that resonated with my upbringing – the standards that are held for us, the shame and disgrace that you can bring upon your family, and the pursuit of happiness vs. expectations.
For weeks, I continued to hear this phrase, “representation matters”. I couldn’t say it myself because I didn’t know what it meant until I felt it. This past week has been overwhelming for me, full of emotions, a sense of accomplishment and solidarity. For those of you that connected with Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Asian or not, it meant the world to me to hear your praises and how much it resonated with you. Please continue to be curious and to seek these stories. The ones below are some of my favorites and paint an even clearer picture than I am able to.