I was fortunate to grow up in a multiracial family and diverse community where I got exposure to different cultures- my mother is third generation Chinese American, and my father has roots in France and Maryland. Yet as the family grew bigger and busier, I could tell traditions and stories were fading away. For example, I remember bringing food to the cemetery to honor family members who had passed, but the yearly outing stopped by the time I was a teenager. I appreciate how my mother restarted this tradition in recent years as my grandparents have gotten older. Therefore, I was excited to start teaching Asian American Studies at my high school during the 2023-2024 school year in order to learn more about Asian American history because I never could place myself in the American history courses I took as a student. As a child, I vaguely remember reading in a family album about how my great-grandparents emigrated from China using fake names. Once I started teaching Asian American history, I finally understood how the actions of my ancestors was part of the paper son system, where Chinese immigrants who were already established in the U.S. would claim that new immigrants were their relatives in order to help them gain entrance in the age of the Chinese Exclusion Act. It was powerful to teach these many stories of resistance to injustice throughout the course. While there are very difficult parts of history, it was these small acts that led to real change.
In what finally seems to be a relatively “normal” start to a Fall semester after having begun the last two in a pandemic-ridden world, there has been no shortage of action in Bloomington. As a Freshman myself, this past semester proved to be challenging in a myriad of ways. Who knew waking up for 8 AM classes wasn’t quite as easy as it used to be in high school? Even today, I’m still not sure I’m truly adjusted to the ever-so-unique life of a college student living on campus.
In all seriousness though, finding the perfect balance between school, extracurricular work, and a healthy social life is undeniably the key to staying afloat. As an Asian American, coming across many fellow Asian and Asian American students has been particularly uplifting. Personally, I have lived in 5 states (excluding Indiana), and I’ve been fortunate to have a strong sense of Asian community within each. When I first came to Bloomington at the end of August, I was unsure what to expect. Luckily, and to my surprise, I was able to come across many Asian Americans myself, as well as help my International friends get acclimated to life in the United States – a much more daunting task than to simply move across the country.
Though it’s no secret that the overall proportion of Asian and Asian American students is rather low on campus, it’s up to us to use our voices as best as we can. Actively seeking new ways to get involved in our respective communities is critical if we’re to help hopefully raise the aforementioned Asian population here on campus for the years to come.
It’s been an eventful Fall semester on campus to say the least. If you don’t feel truly adjusted, know that you’re not alone. There are many resources on campus, including the ACC, to help when the going gets tough. Here’s to wishing for a successful Spring semester, Hoosiers!
Hand in hand
May 3, 2022
i was raised as a first-generation-immigrant-only-child-daughter
of catholic filipino parents
in a household where love
sank and settled into every corner
filling the walls so lovely
almost like the
filipino heat and humidity
in the wet season
that feels like being wrapped in a hug
when we visit family in june or july
but now it's turned to something suffocating
sticky like my ama's suman or her machang
when i couldn't help but poke it with my fingers
sitting with her in the kitchen after i came home from school
and then we would laugh together
(i can't laugh anymore)
(this love has become knotted and complicated like rosaries my ama and my mama would ask me to untangle years ago when i was younger and ama was still with us)
or maybe it's not sticky
maybe the love was too much for the fragile
bahay sa buhangin
maybe my parents' love was always conditional
and it's all my fault the bonds of our home are now gone and collapsed
when i wake up
breath has flown away
face washed with teardrops
eyes drier than the mangoes my tito
sells in his sari sari store
no more tears left to cry because i have to be
like my papa shouted at me to be when he caught me doing that
because i have no family here
no brothers, no sisters, no cousins
to console me or provide support
because i have to be strong
with no one here to depend upon
because when i am mentally unwell
it's just one more thing to ache with guilt about
because my parents sacrificed so much for me to have a good life in america
to no longer tread on dirt path roads
why can't i just be happy
(because filipinos don't cry when things are bad, we just find a way to laugh it off and work harder, okay anak?)
but when they embrace me, saying "i love you because i have no choice"
it doesn't feel like mahal kita and a warm comforting hug coming off their tongue
it's just vaguely uncomfortable and unwelcome
thoughts of coming home feel alarming and stressful
and the idea of going to the philippines this summer is strange because all i can think of is:
i'm scared of spending 18 hours in an airplane next to my mother with no escape
instead of: i can't wait to be reunited with my family for the first time again in years
because they learned i'm not straight and i'm suddenly not the perfect daughter
this was my fall from grace
straight hair, straight a's
work three jobs
get a scholarship
but never a relationship (well maybe when you're past thirty)
never go out with friends, unless it's on the weekends (and don't forget that no matter what, your family's your biggest priority)
and if you are going out with friends, tell me where you are going and for how long and let me track your location and call you while you're with them and if you don't pick up the phone you're disrespectful and rude and you have the wrong priorities and we Did NOT Raise You Like This!
and now a new addition:
1) remember, it's only a sin if you act on any homosexual attraction, 2) being gay was the worst thing you could have told us about yourself, and 3) we love you but we will never support you.
to do list:
- legitimize my need for therapy
but then they use my mental illness as a way to discount my judgement at every turn
(or hold the fact that i'm on their insurance plan against me, even though it's paid for by my dad's job and god, help me i'm only nineteen and i never wanted depression)
i'm tired of justifying my existence
my major, my career path, the way i love, it just hurts
when they say they'll never support me
and i don't feel welcome at home
but i just want to go back, do their laundry
and cook meals for them and feel less alone
(and it hurts even more because they're the best people i know, to everyone else who is not me)
they say jesus said to turn the other cheek
but i'll even offer you my ears and my eyes
(a great bargain, right papa?)
if you could look at me the same way once again
if you'd see me like you did when i was five
and you said you hardly ever prayed for me back then
cause other people needed it more
because i was the perfect daughter
yes, back then, but nevermore
(even though nothing's changed, i swear i'm still the same person mama)
i'm so sorry i'm defective
not the child you always wanted
i tried my best
to get a's on your test
but i guess my best wasn't enough
you told me to be myself
but when i am, you tell me to stop
you told me to have boundaries
but when it comes to you i cannot
you treat *becoming an individual* and *differentiating*
like it's a dirty word
even though i'm still the person i've always been
((perhaps a tad messier and worn))
my body's just a little more lived-in
and i wish i could somehow someday feel less torn
about being myself about being your daughter -
but these days all i can do is mourn
paghingi ng tawad po
ang mahal mahal ko kayong lahat
January 24, 2022
This year I have a girlfriend and now the idea of being kicked out is no longer a scary nightmare but a tangible reality. I used to pray that my parents would die before I fell in love so I would never have to come out to them. Being kicked out doesn’t just mean I lose my parents; it means I lose contact with my family still left in China that I struggle to speak to with my broken Chinese. I lose my mom’s cooking and all the dishes I never learned how to make. I lose the Chinese CDs my parents listen to while cleaning on the weekends. I lose the already fraying ties to my heritage. I wonder how many more nights I’ll have left in this house before I am no longer welcome.
You said once you would love to garden with my mom. She could’ve taught you so much, she’s incredibly talented. I imagine watching you two through the kitchen window, talking and laughing. She’s impressed with how much Chinese you know in such a short time. No one here ever tries to speak to her that way. Your eyes find mine and you smile your small, quirked smile, a little dirt wiped on your forehead. I smile back and give you a thumbs up. I think she’d really like you if she gave you a chance. I wish she could see how happy you make me. I wish she could see how much it hurts to know it’ll never happen.
January 13, 2022
I love my mom.
I love my mom, but I never said it out loud until I heard a girl in school say “Bye love you, mom!!” When their mom was dropping them off at school. It had never occurred to me that that was something that needed to be said out loud; my love was a given, something that, in our family dynamic, didn’t need to be mentioned out loud for its validity to be confirmed.
I felt confused when I saw the girl saying this to her mom, and started to consider if I should maybe tell my mom I love her too. Looking back on this experience (and many other similar ones) led to a realization: many South Asian parents don’t express their love through words, and more through actions.
When I was younger, I found myself comparing my friends’ relationship with their parents to my own, and because I grew up in a town where the majority of people were not South Asian, I adopted the mindset that verbal love and expression were more valuable than quality time and acts of service.
Prioritizing and valuing verbal love over other ways of showing love meant that I didn’t give myself a chance to appreciate the fruit that my mom would peel and cut for me while I was studying, the effort she would put into my school lunches to make sure that I was eating healthy, or the way she never let me go to sleep in a bad mood.
I think one of the reasons why this might be is that there aren’t many ways to express one’s love and appreciation for each other in Hindi, which is both of my parents’ first language. Because of this, it might not have felt natural to express love through words. I’ve seen this trend in my relatives as well, and in the relationships between my South Asian friends and their parents too.
It can be difficult living in a society where you are the minority because aspects of life that are normal for the majority might not hold true for you. Taking the time to recognize where my parents came from and how their unique experiences shape their style of parenting allows me to appreciate all that they do for me.
The world collapsed.
Holding it's breath as it tore through the streets.
Taking and taking from people who had nothing to give.
In their distraught, lonely selves.
They became angry, they became desperate.
They looked for a reason, a villain, an answer.
It was unfortunate that their answer turned out to be me.
The world collapsed.
They took to the streets.
They took and took from people who had no answers for them.
Wronged by prejudice.
Hated with pride.
It was in those disparate, bleeding, dying moments.
I felt fear.
For the first time in my life.
I felt threatened.
Threatened by my pride.
Threatened by my identity.
Threatened by my heritage.
It made me deeply sad.
For our home is now forever lost.
I was always told about the importance of the extended family from my Chinese parents. There is this phrase of "relying on family inside, friends outside." However, growing up isolated from them makes me wonder what I've lost. Now, there's both a language and geographical barrier. I have trouble communicating in the Chinese dialect that everyone uses and my family lives far away from other relatives. Though, I feel like maintaining the values and traits of the parents' culture is a struggle most children of immigrants have.
This year, Thanksgiving Break gifted me with much-needed free time after one of the hardest semesters of college I’d experienced. I was grateful for the time to catch up with my family, do some retail therapy, and get through a few books sitting on my nightstand. It was also during this time that my sister and I decided to catch up on the most popular Chinese dramas that had recently been released. Along this line, we had also decided to pull up some very old Chinese cartoons our parents had shown us when we were growing up. We ended up watching more episodes than what probably would have held our attention when we were younger. It was overwhelmingly nostalgic, and my mom had even sat through a few with us. In this space, I truly felt at home. My sister and I were at peace with the fact that we weren’t fluent in Mandarin.
In our daily lives, consistently, my sister and I face minor amounts of embarrassment towards our lack of fluency in our parent’s language. Phone calls to my grandparents usually end with my sister blushing at her inability to respond to them, and trips to the international grocery store aren’t complete without having to tell the Chinese cashier that I don’t understand what they’re saying. Growing up, my parents decided our academic development in the States was more important than the retainment of our Mandarin, and pushed us to excel in American schools. What they didn’t anticipate was our own feelings of regret that we didn’t try harder to remember pinyin and characters.
However, the cartoons that my parents raised us on were largely pictorial, and rarely used words to communicate stories. It was also at home that my mom spoke her broken English proudly, and my sister and I would unabashedly watch Chinese media with English subtitles. It was a reminder that my family would always accept our differences, and we could laugh over the same cartoon characters, no matter what language the title was in.
I have always felt disconnected and confused by my identities. My race, my ethnicity, my religion, and so many more have consistently put me in a spiral of self-reflection and confusion. In particular, being bi racial, both white and Asian, has perpetually made me feel like I don’t belong. Growing up in a predominately white school, I didn’t have a lot of friends or really any teachers who looked like me or had the same experiences as me. I knew that being surrounded by my Asian family, visiting Hong Kong, and experiencing my family’s culture was a part of me, but not the part that would make me fit in. I will never forget in second grade when we drew self portraits of ourselves and a boy in my class made fun of me for drawing myself with light skin and light brown hair and eyes. I remember grabbing a black crayon and scribbling over my hair as fast as I could. It took me so long to realize that this disassociation from my identity was the result of all the beautiful white characters I saw in my favorite movies and TV shows and all my friends and teachers who I looked up too, but who didn’t look like me. However, even after working so hard to own and be proud of this part of myself, there have been many times when I have felt like an imposter in such spaces. Close friends have told me “don’t forget you’re white too”, and “you’re only half. Or that constant feeling of disconnection for not knowing Cantonese or for being born in the United States and having lived here all my life. This dichotomy of feeling both not Asian enough for some and not white enough for others is something I still grapple with, however, knowing that I am enough and uniquely me has helped me a lot. Although it may be a while until I figure out what box to check for race when there’s no option for check all that apply, I do have the power to shape my own experiences, interests, and identities for no one else, but myself.