'Good Little Asian Girls'

Friday, May 29, 2015 / 8:59 PM

It was recently told to me that "good little Asian girls" never rebel. That "good little Asian girls" are happy doing what their parents tell them, and that there's nothing wrong with that because that's just how they are.

That's just how, the speaker assumed, I am.

"That's an offensive stereotype," I protested, but was silenced by the man's reassurance that it was a stereotype for a reason. And, he emphasized, there's nothing wrong with it if that's what makes "good little Asian girls" happy.

I had to pause and ask myself if I should be offended by the ignorant assertion thrown at me. Perhaps this guy just misspoke, or he didn't mean exactly what he said.

And then I stopped myself from stopping myself from being offended and just let the anger bubble up. Why should I make excuses for others' casual racism? Why do I need to command myself to not be offended when I felt uncomfortable? Why should I let someone tell me how to feel about a label that's been placed on me?

Was I a raucous teenager growing up who told her parents to go fuck themselves? No. I was on student councils, sang in choir, enjoyed family gatherings. But did that mean I always did what I was told? That I made little to no decisions for myself? That I never rebelled? (Is there a single definition of rebellion all teenagers are "supposed" to follow?)

Absolutely not.

Background: I grew up in large, close families. As a kid, we never had family reunions because we spent so much time together already--holidays, summer vacations, birthdays, general excuses to see each other for dim sum. Along with my parents and sisters and grandparents (three who are still living to this day), I have 13 aunts and uncles and 12 cousins--and not a single one of them ever told me what to do with my life.

We were told as kids, as most are, to not do things like smoke (not a rule everyone followed) or talk back (definitely not a rule everyone followed), but when it comes to the things that matter--what to study in school, what career path to take, who to date, who to marry, where to live--I can't remember a time it was ever said to me, "You have to choose [insert path here]."

We respected our parents, and in turn they respected us and our decisions too. I remember asking my mom as a sophomore while watching my sister go through the college application process what she wanted me to major in in college. Did she and my dad want me to be a doctor? Or a lawyer? Were we cogs in the mainstream stereotype machine?

She told me that there were things she and my dad would love to see me pursue--things like medicine or accounting--but at the end of the day, this was a decision that I had to make on my own because I was the one who had to live the rest of my life with it. She said that if she forced me to major in something, and then I ended up hating it or I just wasn't very good at it, that I would just end up being mad at her. And that's not something that's healthy or helpful to anyone.

I'm grateful for that. I can tell you for certain that I am who I am because of the strength of those who raised me, and not because of their insistence I blindly bow down to their every wishes. The expectation from those who raised me was never subservience, which is sadly still something that some expect from Asian-American women today--and that needs to stop.

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