Growing Up Asian in America


Growing up Asian in America was a very interesting experience. Growing up Asian in Kansas – THAT was challenging in so many ways. Back then, the only kind of Asian that existed in Wichita was Chinese and Vietnamese. Thailand wasn’t even on the map yet. I had teachers give me B’s in Language Arts because they thought my English wasn’t good enough. I beg to differ. Even had one teacher go so far to ask me why I was so “Americanized.” Gee, let me take a guess…because I AM AMERICAN!

My parents tried to pass on as many Thai customs as they could…although explanations of the origin or purpose of these customs were often not given, we (my brother and I) went through the motions out of respect. I still don’t know what they are and why we do them.

Like any American kid, I watched TV. I saw shows depicting typical American families and life. Slumber parties, school dances, homecoming, prom, etc. That’s how I envisioned my experiences as a typical American kid would be. Strict Asian parents equate to a lot of struggling growing up with American friends.

Being made fun of. Very early on, I was teased – a lot. Asked if I knew karate. Then I’d hear the “Ching-Chong” crap behind my back. I remember going home in tears, asking my parents if I could change schools. Kids are just mean. As an adult, I now realize I should blame their parents for not raising them better.

Slumber parties? Nope. Out of the question. My mother’s reason? You have a perfectly nice bed at home to sleep in. Sure, friends could come over and spend the night, but I couldn’t do the same. How contradicting.

School dances, homecoming and prom. That was a sore subject. No dates were allowed. So I either went stag, or went with a group of friends to which I then met up with a date. Problem solved.

Dating. That was rough. The rule was…no dating until you are finished with college. Right?! When boys would try to call the house, my parents intercepted the phone calls and told them to go away. Even when I graduated from college, I was told to focus on building my career and not on dating. Now that I’m a few shades away from turning the big 4-0, all that anti-boyfriend energy drove guys away far into adulthood. However, I will say – my brother was allowed to have girlfriends in high school and college. Such a double standard.

Grades. Straight A’s were the norm. Getting a B indicated I didn’t study hard enough. If I got a C (which happened on one occasion that I can recall), that was absolutely unacceptable. Grades were everything in Asian families. Sports were never a priority – to the point where it was somewhat discouraged, at least for me, to participate. I got a part-time job (after tons of begging) in high school so I could take charge of my own destiny. I used my earnings to pay for cheerleading, gymnastics, and any other sporting activities I wanted to partake in. Kids are so lucky these days.

Growing up in Kansas. Where do I start. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked where I was from (Wichita), followed by where I was born (New York City), no where are you REALLY from…I’d be a millionaire. I should just tell them there’s this thing called an airport…people hop on planes and explore the world…try it sometime.

Living in Denver. It’s definitely more diverse and progressive than Kansas. Funny how all you have to do is hop a state line and the climate changes. There are times I even forget that I am Asian. Not that it really matters.

Even though my parents are half way around the world and I am almost four decades wiser, the weight of Asian parental guilt will never go away. FaceTime is such a powerful thing when it’s your parents on the other side. Thanks a lot Apple! However, if I have one awesome takeaway from all this…I got to eat some pretty damn authentic from scratch Thai food growing up BEFORE it was cool to eat Thai food! Thanks Grandma!



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