Life is hard enough as an Asian. Not all of us can get perfect SAT scores, graduate from medical school or trick out a Honda Civic. The pressure to embrace our culture remains but sometimes, we just don’t want to. How To Be A Bad Asian is an ongoing series of personal essays by the 8Asians writers about what sets us apart from the API community, how we deal with the stereotypes that we put upon ourselves and why we all can’t be that perfect Asian. It’s time to be bad.
If you’re Asian American, then it’s likely I’m the one you hate the most. For most Asian parents, I’m about as close to being the ideal Asian son as you can get. As I got older, I would always overhear an aunt or uncle saying to their child,
“Why can’t you be more like Tim? Did you hear he just bought his mom a car. When are you going to buy me a car?”
That’s just one example, but there are many more. I got exceptional grades; I excelled at math and science; I got the perfect math score on the PSAT, SAT, Achievement Tests (now known as SAT II); I got accepted to multiple Ivy League schools; I got both an undergraduate engineering and business degree; I got great job offers after college; I worked on Wall Street; I bought my first home by the age of 25; I got my MBA by the time I was 26.
More reasons to hate me after the jump.
During all that I still managed to look after my parents: send money home to them, buy them various cars through their life, and take them on vacations. In the end, I even moved them into my own home to care for them when they got sick and eventually passed away, and then buried them with traditional Chinese Buddhist funerals.
I’m also the one person in my family who is the torch bearer for the family. I know all the relative’s names, I have the written name for everyone in Chinese, I have the old photographs of the elders, I know who’s who in the family tree. Plus, I host many of the family dinners and gatherings throughout the year. Do I need to go on? Or perhaps you’ve already rolled your eyes and said to yourself, “I don’t need to hear any more, this is the guy I hate.”
So when 8Asians editor Moye, asked me to write a piece for “How To Be A Bad Asian,” my immediate reaction was “You’ve got the wrong person. How can I possibly talk about being a bad Asian, when I’m perfect?”
You see, there’s really only one way I’m a bad Asian and only one way that my parents thought that I failed them. And it’s the one thing about myself that I hid from them for the longest time. It’s also probably influenced me to becoming such a good Asian. I’m GAY. There I said it. Being a good Asian was a way to try and soften the blow to my family for when I would have to come out and tell everyone. I’ve also noticed it’s not an uncommon trait among young gay Asians for them to either end up over compensating by being a really good Asian, or they become really bad in other ways.
If you haven’t realized it, being gay is probably the worst thing you can be as the only son of Asian parents. Asian parents live for and through their kids. They made all their sacrifices so their child could have a better life. The minute you say you’re gay, they have visions of you dying of AIDS, no big marriage ceremony to invite their friends to, no daughter-in-law to care for them when they’re older, and the number one disappointment, no grandchildren to carry on the family name.
Being gay was a secret I kept from my parents until I was 30, and they sat me down and said in no uncertain terms that it was time for me to get married. That kind of forced the issue and I told my parents I wasn’t ever getting married to a woman. The discussion that followed actually landed me in the emergency room (not because my parents hit me or anything, but because I got so angry, I managed to step on a toothpick so forcefully that it lodged itself over an inch deep in my foot – a reminder: another reason not to get shag carpeting – it hides toothpicks and allows them to stand up straight).
But I guess I was a “good” enough Asian that my parents didn’t disown me but instead took every opportunity to remind me that it was still my duty to get married and have kids, regardless of what I did for “fun” when I was younger.
I was so much the perfect Asian that even being gay wasn’t enough to stop the aunties and uncles from admonishing their children to be more like me when I gave my parents money or took my mom on a trip to Vegas. Not long after my revelation, my mom and I planned a trip to Taiwan together. I wanted to go as I hadn’t been in a while and I wanted to see Taiwan through my mom’s eyes. What I wasn’t prepared for was the number of dates with eligible Chinese girls that my mom had planned with the help of her sister. But being the good son, I just kept my mouth shut for the trip and tried to at least be pleasant to the poor women who were forced to put up with me.
Eventually, my own parents gave up on the matchmaking, after my partner and I decided to have our own child, via surrogacy. Having a grandchild is the one thing that truly makes you a “good” Asian. Even if you’re a bad Asian, I suppose you can be a “good” Asian if you try hard enough.