Dear Young Cary: A Note to My Younger Self

We asked Asian American leaders to share a note to their younger selves about moments that have defined their lives and lessons learned from them. Read on for reflections from NBC Washington’s Cary Chow.

A young Cary Chow.

Dear 8th-grade Cary,

It’s me. Or you. From the future. Yep, so stop daydreaming about Cindy Crawford and listen. Your future will includes moments you’ve never dreamed of. Spoiler alert, you’ll get to meet Barry Sanders and he’ll even follow you on Twitter, which is an internet platform where people share information. I don’t have time to explain what the internet is, but let’s just say it’s like Encarta on steroids.

Don’t get an ego about your future, though, because your athletic career already peaked the other week when opposing coach Bert Blyleven asked the refs why they didn’t give you a technical foul for showboating. Bert’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame now. You can have that flex. That’s a slang term for something good, but don’t use it yet because no one will understand.

Here’s why I’m here: You’re about to stop attending Chinese school very soon because you’re still bitter that you had Saturday mornings taken away from you when all your friends were at home watching “Garfield and Friends.” But remember what that guy from UC Berkeley said at the Chinese graduation ceremony? I know you do because I still remember and it’s almost 25 years later. He said: “I know none of you like going to Chinese school, but don’t quit learning Chinese because you’re going to regret it.” And your exact thoughts were: ‘that’s fine, let me regret it.’

You stubborn dumbass. Mission accomplished.

It’s not about the ability to speak Chinese, it’s about losing the key to everything it unlocks. You will miss out on business opportunities, but more importantly, you’ll miss out on the chance to learn more about your family and where you came from. You will never truly be happy until you become comfortable in your Asianness.

I know you’re worried the more you learn about Chinese culture, the less “American” people will perceive you. If people hear you speak Chinese, it could affect your accent, and with that comes ridicule. You’re worried if you wear your Asian pride on your sleeve, you’ll be stigmatized and stranded. I know this insecurity is so embedded within you that you project and judge other Asian American kids with broken English, even though you know nothing about their own journeys and struggles, which are probably harder than your own. You’re so foolish, you don’t even realize that makes you the villain in your own movie. You think your self-deprecating Asian jokes around your non-Asian friends make you cool, but you can be cool without hating on your ethnic identity. You can try to hide or avoid it, but people will always see your race. So embrace it and empower yourself. #EmbraceToEmpower. (Hashtags… or pound signs… nevermind. Some aspects of the future are really dumb.)

Also, maybe you should give your non-Asian peers a little more credit. You don’t need to try so hard to impress because they like you for who you are, not what you look like. I know being a minority feels like you’re walking into a movie theater late and everyone is looking at you, but the world is so much bigger than your current bubble. You’ll realize you’re not alone. Everyone, regardless of race, has their own insecurities like you.

That’s a lot to unwind. I’m not telling you to go back to Chinese school, but I am asking you to learn Chinese somehow. It’ll open the doors to Narnia. Talk with Mom in Mandarin or whatever you need to do. Because it’s way more effective than this Duolingo app I’m currently using. You’ll understand later.

A recent photo of the author with wife Mindy.

I know your sensitive ass can’t take all this criticism without hearing a compliment, so I’ll leave you with this: you’re doing great. Continue your path, keep smiling and being nice to others, people really do notice, and once you become comfortable with your roots, life will be exponentially more enjoyable.

I would tell you more things about your future and your amazing family, but I don’t know the rules of time travel and I’m worried if you know too much, you could screw it up and the stakes are too high. So just be comfortable with your Asianness, your identity, and like En Vogue said — the rest will follow.

Love,

Your 38-year-old Self

P.S. — You’re gonna look the same for a very long time. Asian don’t raisin, bro.

Follow Cary on Twitter: @CaryChow_