The Truth About My Asianness
I wrote this list ages ago when everyone was publishing their "The Truth about my Jewishness" list but I never actually published it. But then @bobbyhundreds did a list about the most racist things that had happened to him and it reminded me of this list. Here's my Asian backstory. Sorry if it's long & boring.
- •Both my parents are from Taiwan but met here in the US when they were in grad school. I think they started dating mostly because they were the only grad students from Taiwan at SUNY Rochester.They were poor but in love. They ended up getting married over the 4th of July weekend because they had a couple of days extra off. I don't think they ever had a proper honeymoon.
- •My maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather had already passed away by the time I was born. I know practically nothing about them.My mom has alluded to some horrible tragedy or drama or terrible secret about my dad's family. But she refuses to tell me. "Oh that's a really sad a story. One of these days I should tell you." Then she just shakes her head. That day has never come. I'm not sure it ever will.
- •I barely met my maternal grandfather but he was an incredibly happy man with a twinkle in his eye.The only memory I have of hanging out with my maternal grandfather was when he visited St. Louis (where I grew up). I was 4. We went to the doctor because I wasn't feeling well. My mom went to pick up medication and I dragged my grandfather into the gift shop and made him buy me a grape Jolly Rancher Stick. He didn't speak any English and I didn't speak any Taiwanese. But he still understood what I wanted. To this day when I eat artificial grape flavor, I think of him.
- •My paternal grandmother passed away a 12 years ago. She was the last grandparent I had.The last time I saw her was in Taiwan 15 years ago. She had a wise wrinkly face and only spoke Taiwanese. She was a chain smoking Buddhist that finally succumbed to emphysema. It was really the only time I really truly wish I spoke Taiwanese. I've long thought it would be convenient to speak it or Mandarin Chinese but confronted with the fact that I knew this was probably going to be the last time I saw my grandmother, I was extremely sad that I had no way of directly communicating with her.
- •My mom went to the equivalent of Harvard there in Taiwan. It was the top school in the nation.My mom is whip smart. She was #1 in her high school class then went to the top University in Taiwan and got into the most difficult department-English. Her dad (my grandpa) was supportive of her going away to college. But every other person in her small town didn't understand why a girl should go college. She was one of the 1st girls to leave the town for a higher education. And I think she may have been THE 1st woman to leave for the US from her small town to go to a grad school.
- •Also my mom is gorgeous. I just had to state that.This is a pic from her wedding.
- •My dad was a professor of chemistry at a top ranked university, though he's retired now.My dad is smart. But I actually think my mom is smarter. Don't ever tell him I said that. He's done research on some amazing things but at the end of the day, he was also a very absent father, preferring to spend time in the lab than with the family. All that said, when I came out to him as gay , he immediately did research about it and came to the conclusion that there nothing wrong with being gay. Research is his friend. And mine too apparently.
- •My mom had two siblings, both moved here to the states.Her brother has since passed away. Her sister lives in DC. Fun fact, when my DC cousin got married to a white woman they married at her church w/her pastor. The church was seated bride side on left, groom side in right. During the ceremony, the family pastor, who was close to the bride, did a "surprise" where he gave them his present: a clock. There was audible gasps from the right side of the church. You NEVER give a clock as a present to Chinese people. Total bad luck. It was highly amusing.
- •My dad was one of 6 brothers and 4 sistersAll of them were numbered to us. So when we visited them in Taiwan, they weren't given names but rather "We're going to have dinner with Uncle #5 tomorrow." I guess this made thing easier for us, but to this day, I still don't know the names of any of my aunts or uncles in Taiwan. Most have passed away though. My dad was #4 so he was one of the younger ones.
- •Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, I was one of two Asians in grade school.The only other Asian was Janet Kim. I have a distinct memory of going up to her in 3rd grade and asking her if she spoke Chinese. She looked at me as if I was crazy and said "NO!" with utter derision. Then she stormed off to the playground and I was completely confused. We continued to go to the same school, graduating high school together and she continued to look at me with derision and contempt throughout our entire education.
- •Apparently growing up as a kid I actually DID speak Chinese and Taiwanese.I also had a slight accent when I spoke English. This was during the 70s when everyone wanted their kids to blend in and assimilate. I later found out that my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Spring had a parents/teacher conference with my mom and dad and told them that they were ONLY to speak English to me. No Chinese. She wanted me to fit in. Sadly now I speak very little Chinese. Which is really unfortunate.
- •I stayed in my hometown of St. Louis because I had free tuition at the university my dad taught at.Despite having a fairly large Asian student body I had few Asian friends there. My one exception is my friend Peter who I lived on my freshman dorm floor. He's still one of my best friends and lives here in San Francisco. I hang out with him fairly regularly but despite rumors in college we never dated. We were never each other's type.
- •I have two siblings. They are probably more Asian than me.My brother spent a year in Taiwan teaching English and speaks rudimentary Chinese. Enough to get by (though he says he probably lost a lot of it by now). He also went to med school. My sister also went to med school but dropped out. BUT she ended up marrying a nice Asian boy (he's Korean but it still counts). I'm the problematic middle child that did NOT go to med school, does not speak Chinese and is gay. Go me!
- •All three of my siblings have "disappointed" my parents.Thankfully I did first by coming out of the closet. My brother divorced his first (Asian) wife who my parents absolutely loved and viewed as a long lost daughter. He has since remarried to a white woman and given my parents 2 grandkids but I'm not I are that's enough. My sister dropped out of medical school. After those two disappointments, being gay was nothing to my parents.
- •While in college I spent a summer in Taiwan on a program commonly called "The Love Boat". This is a 6-week long propaganda camp sponsored by the Taiwanese government.This is similar to Birthright Israel where kids of Taiwanese descent go back to Taiwan and learn about the country. It's called Love Boat because parents send their kids back in the hopes they'll meet a nice Taiwanese boy or girl & get married. In my circle of friends it worked. 2 couples resulted! I'm still super close friends from that time. Fun fact: when you go the wikipedia entry about it, the photo you see is of my group of friends. http://bit.ly/1DrNVu0
- •I finally moved to San Francisco 18 years ago. It was liberating.And not just because of the gay thing. I don't have people stopping me to ask directions and prefacing it with "Do you speak English?" When I meet someone at a party and they ask me "Where are you from?" They mean, did you grow up here in SF or did you move here? Not "What ethnicity are you and why are you here?" I never realized the amount of microaggressions I dealt with in St. Louis. It was like a HUGE weight was lifted off me. One I didn't even know I had.