My Identity in a Cultural Exchange

In what I am about to write I might be stating many erroneous generalizations and stereotypes... I assure you that I'm not doing it out of ignorance. And I can pinky-swear promise that I never mean to offend. This is just another blog post, and as usual, I am only writing from what I know and have experienced. (Can you tell that I am extremely nervous about the topic for today? Because I am). 

I'm not really sure what it is about Asian families or Asian-American families but many of our parents like to compare us to other children. Specifically, our parents like to compare us to other Asian kids within our own family, to the Asian kids of their friends, to our classmates who are Asian, to the Asian kid down the street, or compare us to the Asian kid (we don't even know) sitting two tables away at the Dim Sum table. These were the types of conversations that surrounded my dinner table, and after dinner table discussions:  

"Your brother scored a perfect SAT score so why can't you?"
"At the parent-teacher conference I heard [Insert Asian classmate's name] got top honors in science, she's so smart - why don't you be more like her?"
"Why don't you eat more vegetables and tofu? Look at how many vegetables she's eating."
"Look at how respectful he's being and how terrible your behavior is, be more like him." 

For many of my American friends/readers it might be difficult to understand this mindset, but for me and my brothers it was just a part of the culture and parenting-style. These conversations took on a this is the-way-things-are-done-in-our-family attitude; I am sure every household and family has some example of this, regardless of race, ethnicity, and culture. That's what makes
your family your family. 
It seemed like whatever aspect of our identity our parents felt was most important to "shape-up and perfect" would be most likely to be critiqued, or sought out for comparison. Usually this was intellect, grades, work ethic, parental respect, physical appearance etc.

Okay so I think you know where I'm going with this, right? I'll just say it already:

There was never really someone else my disability or O.I. was ever compared to. When my parents were upset with my grades or my latest discipline issue in school, they'd rant and holler about how I should be more like so-and-so... as if that person would become my standard of behavior in that particular area of my apparent 'weakness.' But with O.I. there was no other standard except my own. There was never "why can't you walk more like that person with O.I.?" Or "Why don't you have better posture like that child with O.I.?" And I'm sure if they could they would have said "Why can't you not itch and not pull out the cotton in the cast like that girl with O.I.?"  

This was slightly confusing for me as a child. For starters I often assumed that because there was no comparison it meant my disability was simply not important enough. It wasn't viewed as part of my 'identity' in the way that my parents presumed my identity to be -- it was just this other thing that was dealt with when the need arose (read as: when fractures happened). Or it was just this other thing that gave 'perks' like handicap parking and other benefits. It also meant that I didn't quite know how to make my disability a conscious part of my identity, because I didn't know exactly what to do with it! As a child it was clear that if I wanted to be smarter I would have to "study more like that person.." With O.I. there was just simply nothing for me to do with it except live with it and adapt as well as possible. And for almost two decades of my life I unknowingly accepted the way my parents viewed my disability as the way I viewed it, without consciously realizing that I actually had a choice in the matter... as.. you know, the person with the disability.

As an adult I obviously know why my parents did what they did. Now my brothers and I are all on our own paths to success, we understand why our parents demanded only the best from us -- and even appreciate the ridiculous expectations that they held over our heads night after night till we graduated high school. When you show a child that they are capable of the best and that behavior is drilled into them, as adults we come to know what we have been able to accomplish and take those same methods applied to whatever our field/passion/interests are. Of course when we fail as adults... well... that's a whole separate blog post. 
I also, as an adult, understand why my parents literally could not compare me to another person or child with O.I. because they didn't know of any others! The fact of the matter is that I was a lab rat for mom and dad, and as all-knowing & godlike they seemed in my childhood eyes -- I am able to put them a bit higher on that pedestal now that I understand they had very little clue and guidance to how to raise a child with O.I. Maybe they accepted that they couldn't really 'perfect' the disability outside of whatever my orthopedic doctor advised them to do, and that was that. Perhaps it was because they knew they couldn't do anything more about this part of my identity that they tried to 'make up for it' in other areas of my being. 
Who knows, really? This is probably one of those things answered on page 347 Section H15, Articles 1-6 in the Master Parenting Handbook that new parents are given when their child is born. (Clearly something that they forgot to pack in mom's bag when she left the hospital...)

I could continue to wax nostalgic about the way my parents raised me and my brothers. I could also do a full-out academic research project on parenting styles and the cross-cultural psychological impact on offspring. None of that is going to change the fact that as an adult I have taken charge of my identity, or... more accurately... begun to actively do that in terms of my disability. But all that stuff is important because each person comes from some understanding of the world; our perspectives and mindsets are first grounded by what our families and parents teach us. It's just important to remember that that background doesn't have to become who we are as adults; the only great part about becoming an adult is that we have a teeny bit more say when it comes to writing our own stories. (I pinky-swear promise you that the rest of being an adult is just plain dull and annoying, scary even!) And as for how my story began? I am neither resentful nor disappointed by it because I think I'm turning out to be a fairly okay-ish individual. 

Thanks a bunch mom & dad!

Posted in , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2011 Perfectly Imperfecta. Powered by Blogger.