I Don’t Take Pride in My Race
Disclaimer: I never intend to offend anyone whenever I write to express myself. I have no ill-will towards anyone of any race or ethnicity. I have, and always will have respect for people with character and compassion in how they treat others. I recognize that this may be sensitive subject matter for some, and I don’t idealize a confrontation to be born from it. This is solely my views and feelings. If you are genuinely seeking to understand, like all fruitful conversations, you are more than welcome to continue reading. However, if the title of this article motivated you to incite a war of words, it may be best to avoid reading it. Thank you!
I don’t take pride in my race.
I can hear you gasp. Hear me out.
I don’t have this burning desire to be of another race; rather I just don’t take pride in my current race. The lens by which I view my identity as an Asian-American man in contemporary society creates a complex and controversial crisis within my psyche. The clearest reasoning for why my lack of pride persists is because I don’t identify with traditional Asian values that have perpetuated the ideals and perceptions of how I should live my life.
Here’s a brief synopsis of my background: my mom is Chinese, and my father is Vietnamese. Like many Gen-X parents, my parents immigrated to the United States between thirty to forty years ago with the dream of their children having a better life. To water that seed of a dream, they found work selling goods in the sweltering heat of a flea market, where the hypnotic ringing of a nearby ice cream truck dared them to spend their profits on a small slushy cone to cool off. They believed that the main purpose of assimilating into America was to obtain upward economic mobility, and for their children to do so as well (probably so that we could buy slushy cones without seeing heat waves).
This desire to obtain economic mobility reigned supreme in our household, and I imagine many other Asians reading this can relate to it as well. From a child’s perspective, this desire assimilated into a requirement, with the blueprint having been laid out:
Attend a four-year university straight out of high school.
You like the arts? You have a creative and expressive side you want to pursue? You sound ridiculous!
Only concentrate on future job prospects that are promising in salary. Don’t question it.
Commonplace is enrolling children into stereotypical extracurriculars, such as piano or tutoring lessons, all for admission into elite colleges despite its rising costs. Despite the American economy having drastically changed since my parents immigrated to the United States, many Asian parents haven’t been able to grasp the concepts of allowing their children to reflect and think about what they actually want for themselves. In addition to this, they’re unaware of how the current job market operates (my dad thinks that a dishwasher makes $60k per year in 2022). This bleeds into the rest of the family, where any expression of forgoing college for another experience is grounds for social crucifixion at gatherings. What about trade school? Or a gap year? This form of thinking is negatively pervasive and fails to account for the basic human truth that we are all different. Who said that they know what is best for us? Although we may have been raised in your household, our personal values will not always align because we’ve grown up in and seen a different world, thus affecting our individual desires and motivations. We deserve to be freely ambitious for ourselves. The hyperfixation on financial gain has allowed for me to see firsthand it’s destruction to family relationships. I’ve witnessed money-chasing turn a household upside down—severing the genesis of many relationships of any chance for reconciliation. It has split households apart and the children get the brunt end of the stick by suffering from poor parenting.
If we retrace the steps to everything Asian parents do, we’re led back to love. While we should be appreciative to have been raised in a household that cares for us and had sacrificed so much, that love is often masked behind snarky and emotionally-unintelligent remarks, and is without a doubt in my mind being shown in the wrong manner.
It’s a culture where, from my experience, elders lean on invalidation rather than empathy when vulnerability is addressed. Irate is the best way I could describe how I feel towards my father whenever he laughs at a personal issue I face. I still love him, but it’s tone-deaf. It’s emotional negligence. The concept that older people are wiser is completely untrue in my experience with older Asian people. For this demographic, speaking and action comes before thinking, constantly bringing about uncomfortable and inappropriate social situations. In my experience, Asian parents may try to protect and do things for their kids out of love and wanting the best for them, but it‘s often done in a way that is rude and void of empathy. There’s a joking stereotype that Asians, from kids to adults, have rarely (or never) heard their parents say that they love them. However, they are the pawns by which their parents use to compare them to kids of other Asian parents. When this happens, there is almost no practical achievement that can suffice our worth. Comparison and expectations from elders has beaten so many Asian kids’ self-esteem and self-worth to a pulp, including my own. Going to dinner with another Asian family is anxiety-inducing, as career-interrogation often takes the place of dinner while being compared to the families’ kid(s). Asian parents don’t seem to understand that it’s being drilled into their kids’ heads inadvertently that they are not enough. Over and over again. Unintentional or intentional, how could you expect your kid to just take it? I was at the pharmacy department inside of a CVS with two of my Asian friends awhile back, and one friend called his parents to tell them that their medication wasn’t ready to be picked up. What happened? He got chewed out—declared as useless in front of my friend and I.
I wanted to transition into the final part of this piece, and arguably the most sensitive part: racism and homophobia. I would not be able to post this article without addressing the asinine amounts of racism and homophobia embedded into traditional Asian values. A vivid memory of racism is when I witnessed an elderly Asian woman denouncing a potential marriage with a Black woman to a younger Asian male. Slurs and stereotypes were used, and I remember exactly how it went ten years later. This isn’t an isolated incident. Older Asian people talk down on other races, and speak and view those of color to be less than. Speaking of less than, those that are LGBTQ+ are often invisible to older Asians. To be LGBTQ+ in a family of older Asians is to be the black sheep. Easily spotted, socially belittled behind closed doors. LGBTQ+ members are made less than, and receive zero social support. They, along with those of color and others experiencing nasty social remarks are more than deserving of support and belonging. I can’t get behind values and beliefs that have plagued a culture so hell-bent on insensitivity and personal interest. I am not in support of these ethics (or lack thereof), but I am reminded of these socially numb principles whenever I look in the mirror.
I did not choose my race, and therefore do not feel obligated to feel an innate attachment to it. It isn’t to say that being Asian or any race is inherently bad, but pride is destitute for me. I don’t find alignment when comparing my current worldview with that of traditional Asian values.