- There’s a very big difference between generations where English is ESL and where it’s naturally spoken at home.
- In my experience, Asians in LA more than other places are more comfortable, BUT none feel properly represented in any media.
So pretty much everything you’re going to hear about ‘Asians’ is some form of a stereotype. Asians simply cannot control their own image in America. They control their own image much less so than black Americans or Latinos. I understand very much how it is to be someone completely other than what people expect you to be and how much contempt that can cause. The basic compensating attitude is, “You are so wrong that it’s not even worth it to correct you or even let you know how wrong you are.”
OK all that aside.
The first story is the one about the 3rd best project manager I ever worked with. He was a sergeant in the army on Taiwan. And I’ll tell you that one of the fiercest woman I have ever met was a Taiwanese whose family lost everything in the Revolution. Meaning literally rich and well educated to refugee in forced marches. She came to the US and she was super smart, super disciplined and good looking too. But she had no time to play. I asked her why and she told me that story about her family. She came to the US to start from scratch and claw her way up to the wealth and dignity her family had. Anyway, it’s not the kind of story you often hear, but DAMN!
So this project manager who served in Taiwan surely had parents of that sort as well, who lost everything. And one day he’s on the phone with his son. Now imagine you come to the US, this guy is spending all of his money to send his son to an expensive private school, and the kid is fat and getting pushed around, and is generally a loser. Well, we’re all in an open floor plan cubicle farm and he is just letting his son have it. He’s cursing him out in two languages. And it just goes on for 20 minutes. Can you imagine? The guy is completely humiliated by his son and practically disowns him in front of everyone at work. That’s just sad.
Second story is a girl named M. She is from Tokyo, her friend is from Okinawa. I meet them in a fancy beach cafe in SoCal. Her family has money and so she had saved enough to just leave Japan. Her family disagrees and sends, basically, a chaperone. So she’s living with this dude in West Hollywood. (Oh, did I mention we started seeing each other?, Yeah we both had a little bit of jungle fever.) So she doesn’t speak much English, and my Nihongo is pathetic. I’m reading her manga backwards.
But basically she confesses that she hates her culture. She needed to leave Japan to be free. She tells me in the way that I guess some rich girls must feel, that her family and traditions are all stifling. She hates Japanese men. And I ask her to describe it. We’re sitting on the beach watching the sunset, and she says Japanese men just don’t appreciate the natural beauty of a sunset. They have no joyful spirit. They just drink and work themselves to death and take their frustrations out on women. They all try to conform. She found them super-icky.
Her chaperone was her age too and he was also traditional, and when the three of us were together it was, uncomfortably tense and weird. She had to prepare the meal, and they got into a little fight about whether I should eat at the same time, who ate first and all kinds of the equivalent of Japanese Downton Abbey shit. All the while being super polite and not breaking protocol.
She was very unhappy about breaking tradition — her self-esteem was in conflict with her desire. She needed and wanted respect but for being someone she was not allowed to be, and didn’t quite know how to be. Plus she had to try to communicate these feelings in a foreign language. So then sometimes she just wanted to get drunk and dance, like a college freshman trying to be cool and enjoy a strange party.
I can’t say these are simple ‘self-hating’ people. I sensed them in very troubling conflicts with what they grew up to be and what they wanted to be and it not happening for them they way they wanted. I witnessed them stressed to the breaking point. I say this with a lot more wisdom than I had at the time, but I remember these two people well. One Taiwanese middle aged man (1998), one Japanese young woman (1987). Both here in Los Angeles.
Here’s the half story. This was a young Korean woman who was very hipster, and very forward about the difficulty she had with FOBs. She would wear shirts like ‘Got Rice?’, just to be ironic and snarky. But most of the time she would just start sharing too much information about what it’s like to be called a ‘banana’. All the freaking time. I can’t even remember how I knew her. I just remember she kept talking about her white boyfriend and exactly what kind of white boyfriend she liked. Nobody asked her. And then she would self-edit herself and then try to test if you looked at her funny when she started these rants. I mean she was smart, but anybody would say she was confused and it got to the point where it was really annoying. I think was on some kind of road trip with her carpooling someplace and I just couldn’t wait to get away from her. Jeez.
I tell these stories because I’m a good listener and I also want to remember. I’m not trying to validate ‘self-hating’ because everybody wants to be different and better than they are. Most keep it to themselves. Sometimes we get to see. I think when we get to see, we should find a way to let people be validated in what they aim to be, especially when they’re trying to escape. It’s not easy to do.