Posts Tagged ‘asian american’

Outward appearances

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,

I often forget I am an Asian-American woman. Does it affect how people perceive my abilities? I’m starting to wonder.

For the most part, I go about my days without a second thought to differences in gender, ethnicity, age, or other factors. Everyone I work with is a different personality type in my mind, but I don’t consciously associate that with any other qualities. And likewise, I don’t think they treat me any specific way because I’m female or Asian. But then I read books about the Asian-American experience (particularly Asian-American women) and it gets me thinking if the way I’m treated is not just about my personality and behavior, but also largely affected by my appearance.

happy girl smiling taking a selfie with snow falling around her

Just a happy-go-lucky gal who loves the simple things.

Do I not get the respect I thought I would because of my gender, ethnicity, or age? Or do I not because I’m silly and goof off so people don’t always take me seriously? Do certain people pay me a little more attention because of how I look or do they just like my bubbly excitement over little things? Would I even be able to parse out that information? Does it ultimately matter? At the moment, it does because it’s creating a psychological barrier for me. I suddenly lost confidence in myself and my abilities and the doubt I have is related to my gender and ethnicity. If I were a man, would it be different? Would I have more confidence in myself even as I failed? If I weren’t Asian, would it be easier to express myself and stand up for my ideas?

I’m working to set myself up for success again and focus on attainable goals. It’s all too easy to be harsh on myself and judge everything I do as not good enough.

Holiday traditions Asian-American style

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

My family has sort of stopped, but the holiday season is a time to celebrate in general and that we do, in our own little ways. While the rest of the country was scrambling to get gifts for their loved ones around this time of year, I was sitting back and only had to figure out what to bring to the company white elephant last week. Other than that, I really didn’t have any gifts to get. Since I ended up putting together items I had at home (champagne, cookies, and a hangover drink) for the white elephant, I haven’t had to buy a single gift for the season. This actually seems to be pretty common among many Asian American households, so I doubt we’re that unique.

christmas tree in living room decorated with poinsettias and ornaments

The last time we broke out the tree was 2006 I think.

When I was a kid, my parents adopted the American holiday traditions as you often see them advertised. We had Christmas lights and a tree and gifts. One year, I wrote a little letter to Santa and left some cookies and milk, even though I didn’t quite believe it would work. Still, for the sake of participating in a tradition, I gave it a shot. Since my birthday happens to coincide with all the celebrating that occurs between Christmas and New Year’s, I wanted to make sure we celebrated it all lest my birthday get lost in the shuffle. Being an only child, my mom indulged me and even let me dictate that I would get 25 (or was it 30?) gifts one year. Of course, when pencils and socks count, it’s not too hard to get that count. Still, I grew up pretty spoiled and always well-taken care of. While I never got the video games I begged for for years, I did get plenty of other items ranging from clothing to books to toys.

Sometime around high school, I began to really notice how impractical it was to wait til the end of the year just to get a camera or some article of clothing that I could have been enjoying long before. One time when I asked my mom for a particular item only halfway through the year, we decided that it would count as one of my holiday/birthday presents. From that point on, it made more sense to get what I wanted/needed when the timing was right and then we’d just do some small thing at the end of the year more as a gesture than anything else. Over the years, that transitioned into a family trip in the winter and no official gifts. We’d also make sure to get at least one meal together as a family. It’s more about the time and experiences now.

This year for Panda I asked what he wanted and he said much of the same. Time spent together now that we’re both back in LA. We’ll visit some of our favorite stomping grounds and also take some time to explore new ones. I’m finally going to get to a restaurant I’ve wanted to eat at for ages! And that’s how I see us celebrating my birthday in a few days – a whole lot of eating, driving, exploring, and picture-taking. Just the way I like it.

The commercial products? We’ll get them as we see fit, when we see fit.


laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,

when i think of you
i think of that smile
your resilient spirit shining through

when i think of you
i wish we had met in person
so i could hug you and hear you laugh

when i think of you
i can’t help but shed a tear
as i remember the day i found out

found out the cancer had taken you

i always believed you’d beat it
you were so strong, so brave
you had the kindest heart

you made such an impact on so many lives
inspiring them, encouraging them
and bringing awareness to the need for asian donors

who else deserved to live more than you?

oh janet, how i wish it didn’t
didn’t have to end
end like that, end so soon

how i wish you were still here
sharing your beautiful soul

janet liang potrait with quote

A tribute to you, Janet, over a year after your passing. Thinking about you.

Please put yourself into the donor registry, no matter who you are. You could save a life. Learn more at Asian American Donor Program (not just for Asians) and get registered to be a donor.

That Asian (American) couple

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , ,

Are there not enough Asians who live in the UK? Everywhere we go, Panda and I have been grouped into the Asian category. People see us and assume we came from China. We’ve had ladies on the street ask us for directions in Mandarin and restaurant owners who speak to us in Chinese dialects. They seem shocked, bewildered even, when they hear us speak English with American accents or act like we don’t understand Chinese. It’s as if the only Asians in all of Great Britain are tourists or something. I mean, I feel like we’ve seen our fair share of Chinese people milling about, but I guess it is true that each and every one of them was a Chinese tourist (at least all the ones I heard say anything).

tourists in plaza by buckingham palace in london

Chinese or American tourist? Do I have have to choose between them?

Still, it’s been quite an experience for me to relive the times in my childhood when my American-ness was a big deal. Whenever I’d go back to China as a kid, I got a fair share of attention for being “that American girl” who grew up not like the rest of them. As I grew up it became less and less unusual. In the US, particularly in the Los Angeles region, not only is it normal, it’s practically expected that you grew up in America. The majority of my peers are born and bred Americans. I don’t often run into those who have recently emmigrated and are still new to American culture, though there are still plenty of those. For the most part, Asians of all sorts in California have likely been in the country for a least one generation if not more. I’m of a slightly less common variety of those who moved as a toddler. Most of my Asian-American friends are true ABCs and a lot don’t even speak Chinese. I’m glad that I do, or I’d feel even more awkward out here!

A few weeks ago, I started to learn Cantonese partly because it is so weird to sit around not understanding what’s going on at a Cantonese restaurant when Panda is conversing with the staff. I always wonder if those people think I’m an ABC who has little to no ties to the mainland, or if they realize that I’m just a Mandarin speaker who can’t make sense of the Cantonese going on around me. I hate feeling left out so I figured I might as well learn basic terms to get me through standard day-to-day conversations!

It’s funny how we’re now mistaken for tourists from mainland China when Panda’s never even been and I’ve always been identified as an outsider. I never could understand how I’d go back to China and people would know right away that I wasn’t raised there. When I was younger, my extremely tan skin probably gave it away. Now that I’m paler have I lost my scarlet letter? Or is it just that people abroad can’t tell as easily as those in China? Whatever the case, I’ve suddenly become a lot more conscious of our outer appearance not always matching up to what people assume us to be. I feel out of place already as a foreigner and that just adds another layer. It will be nice to return home where our Asian-American-ness is not questioned!

Those artsy folk

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
collage of four different blogs with white backgrounds and bright colors

A few examples of those bright blogs with pretty pictures.

I’ve been following a lot of bloggers lately and they all seem to be so similar – happily married women enjoying life as a wife and mother, with loving husbands who may not get their blogging but support it, and a keen eye for design/fashion/beauty. They tend to have very nice, clean-cut, fresh-looking blogs with white backgrounds and cute, colorful themes/icons. Oh, and I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or what but they’re pretty much all Caucasian, with a few exceptions. More recently I also stumbled across a subset of these who are expats living and working abroad, usually with their spouse.

Then there’s me. I travel a good amount, but I’m not living abroad (unless you count China as my home base). I am not married nor do I have children, though I am engaged and will probably reach that stage in a few years. All of my blog themes of choice have been darker; I don’t think I ever had a white background. My space feels more “crowded” and less clean (much like my room). Generally there are some Asian-inspired elements as well. I’ve yet to see any other blog quite like mine and I’m not sure I’d ever want a blog just like those gals. On the other hand, I’m similar in that I’m also in a good relationship (but I’m only beginning to learn about all this domestic stuff – I don’t do home improvement projects or cook or do crafts like most of these ladies).

In a way, I’m jealous of these women. They’re so good at photography and portray things so beautifully, in ways I may never. But at the same time, I like being different. I like how my blog reflects my Asian heritage. I like that my look is more distinctive from all those others. I don’t mind that my pictures aren’t beautiful DSLR masterpieces (but I wouldn’t mind if they were!). I guess in not being so perfect, people can see that I’m just another person figuring her way through things. At least that’s what I hope! Maybe it just makes me seem less serious or more of an amateur. That may very well be true…

Whatever the case, I tried searching for Asian bloggers and came up with a few non-English ones or semi-famous Asian ones. What about Asian-Americans like myself, just the average Jane/Joe sharing random thoughts and experiences? If you know of any, please do share. I’m still trying to find bloggers who fit my own life experiences more and I’m coming up pretty empty. Not that I don’t enjoy reading the blogs of all the other ladies I’ve seen, but I want to find some that I am more similar to and can connect with more.

Kollaboration 9 winner

laelene Posted in video blog,Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s almost time for Kollaboration again, so here’s a look back on the winner last year:

kenichi ebina’s performance at kollaboration from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

low battery! from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

See more performances here.

Asian to American generational gaps

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,

Things have been very different for each generation of my family, especially on the marriage front.  I thought it’d be interesting to outline how it has changed from thoroughly Chinese and traditional to (eventually) entirely American and modern.  I’m counting from my great-grandparents’ generation through to my future children’s (and possibly even my grandchildren’s).  I guess five-six generations is what it takes to make the ultimate transition in terms of how the family will progress.

Starting off with my great-grandparents back in Communist China in the early years of last century, marriage was something that your elders decided.  Romantic love wasn’t really a familiar concept and whether you liked it or not, your future spouse was chosen for you by your parents.  In a way, being match-made was easier, since you didn’t have to find someone for yourself.  Plus, with the wisdom of their years, parents would generally match you up pretty well according to personality and wealth.  Think eHarmony, except substitute wealth for education in that case.

So one day your parents would strike a deal with his or her parents and a fortuitous date would be set.  Nothing with 4s and preferably with 8s.  You’d probably get really curious and nervous leading up to the wedding, wondering what your partner would be like, look like, act like.  Then the day would come and you would first lay eyes on this mysterious person you were destined to spend the rest of your life with.  After all the ceremonious duties were done, you’d spend your first night together, getting to know each other.  Over the years you would grow to love each other, or at least tolerate each other.  And you would propagate and continue the cycle for your children too.

Then came my grandparents’ generation, where things were starting to get a little less traditional.  Though your parents still chose your spouse, the two of you were allowed to meet before getting married and get to know each other a little.  Call it a supervised courtship of sorts.  As your parents did, you learn to love each other and build a life together.  By the time your offspring grow of age, rules have gotten lax and you let your children decide from a number of suitors you present to them.  With each, they get to know each other and court a bit before deciding if they like each other enough to commit their lives to each other.  The pressure of making the right choice started to become an issue, with this generation having the power to decide their own fates (within certain choices presented to them).  Now the concept of romantic love began to spread as young couples tried to figure out if they could love this person for the remainder of their years.

For my parents in particular, my maternal grandmother heard of my dad through the wife of a professor at the local university, which is where my parents both went to school.  My maternal grandfather was also a professor at the school and his professor buddy had my dad as a student.  Through the women talking, my grandmother learned that this young man was the professor’s star student and first in his class.  My parents were introduced to each other and my grandfather approved without ever meeting the man.  All he had to know was that he was a hard worker and an excellent student.  My grandmother, on the other hand, wanted to meet and get to know this potential suitor.  As the legend goes, she sat him down for an interview (probably mostly asking about academics and his professional future) and liked him as well.  My mom decided that of the guys she’d been introduced to, she liked this one the most, and so they were married.  Or something like that.

(More on my parents’ (and my) story in this future post.)

As for my generation, we’d moved to the US when I was young and I was brought up in a very Asian-American household.  I’d say my split was probably 60% Chinese, 40% American in my younger years, and now it has transitioned to 70% American, 30% Chinese.  It gives you a rough estimate anyway.  So for me, choosing a future spouse is mostly up to me, though my mom has certainly tried to introduce me to the sons of her friends and former classmates.  I get to pick him, but I still seek my parents’ approval and blessing.  If they don’t like him, I don’t know if I could go through with it.  Thankfully, they seemed to have liked Panda plenty at their first meeting.  🙂  Also, at this point, love is very much an issue and the real thing driving my motivation.  Whereas before people learned to love, now I am looking for love.  Completely different priorities!

I anticipate that my children’s generation will do whatever they want without much, if any, say from me.  They’ll probably go chasing after their own fantasies and desires with little regard for my wishes.  But then again, I’d probably let them do their own thing and not try to interfere.  As for the generation after that, well, who knows how the world will be!  Maybe having a family will be so overrated that they chose not to procreate.  It certainly seems like more and more people I know are choosing to delay a family or throw that concept out entirely.  What’s important to us has shifted beyond recognition and I’m sure my great-grandparents would be utterly confused at the state of the world today.

And so, in five generations we went from no choice to complete choice.  In six we can go to no children, no seventh generation!  Yikes!  But hey, perhaps family values will make a comeback and the opposite will happen.  You never know.

Double eyelids

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,

I’m sure any of you who have looked carefully at a Chinese face have noticed that our eyes are shaped vastly differently from our Caucasian counterparts.  We have these crazy eyelids that kind of fold into themselves from the eyelash area when we open our eyes, whereas Caucasians have a crease at the top of their eyelid where the skin folds in.  Sometimes we’ll get this crease in the middle of our eyelid, toward the bottom and our eyes will start to fold in from there.  Well, in Chinese culture, it is considered attractive to have that look, which is called “double eyelids” because now it looks like there are two parts, separated by the flap.

closed eyesI naturally do not have double eyelids, merely single ones, but as a child, if I rubbed my eyes a lot, sometimes I could get a temporary crease.  When I went back to China after high school, I took some glamor shots at a studio, where they taped little clear crescents onto my eyelids to simulate the look.  It was fascinating to me that they would do that and I’ve always wondered if it really does look better.  It certainly gives my eyes a little more dimension and now eyeliner applied along the top layer of lashes wouldn’t get buried in the depths of my eye when I opened them.  It makes for more “Western” eyes, which, perhaps, is the point?  It feels weird though, to have this crease in my eye, with skin folding up around it and sometimes I wonder if it’s one of those things like a displaced joint that needs a little boost to get back into place.  There’s certainly a kind of pressure there and opening my eyes larger makes that feeling even more pronounced.

open eyesSometime while I was in Singapore (and I didn’t notice at all), I somehow developed a double eyelid.  That’s right, just one.  So now my eyes are uneven (much like everything else in my body) and I wonder if one eye looks bigger because of this incongruency.  It’s kind of cool and it has been pretty permanent, but I wonder how long this will last.  Will the other eye change too?  Will this one go back?  Or am I stuck with one single eyelid and one double eyelid?  Since I have no idea how I got the first one to begin with, I have no idea how to make my other eyelid like that, or undo this one.  I guess it’s fun though, to observe the differences side by side and feel the differences when I open my eyes.

The best woman in the world

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , ,
photo credit:

photo credit:

I’ve been going through another binge period of TED video-watching and many of the performances I saw were dedicated to that particular person’s mother.  It reminded me of this crazy phenomenon where so much of the population admire and adore their mothers.  It’s really amazing because mothers (and fathers and grandparents) are one of the most often-lauded “groups” in society.  There’s a certain mystical nature about the influence of a mother and it strikes me as a curious thing.  After all, all mothers were just women before that, and little girls before that.  At what point do they suddenly become wise and caring and protective and loving and inspirational?  I wonder if the hormonal changes during pregnancy suddenly mature a lot of them and prepare them for a life as a role model.  What happens to make women transform like that?  I don’t get it.  Do I just have to wait my turn to feel the magical effects?  Many really rise to the occasion and do a great job in their role.

Take my mother for example.  She’s smart, she’s capable, she’s supportive, she’s patient, she’s skillful; she’s a handyman, she’s a chef, she’s a gardener, she’s a bargain hunter, she’s a problem solver, she’s a nurse, she’s an engineer, she’s a planner, she’s a housekeeper, she’s a financier, she’s a daughter, she’s a wife, she’s an aunt, she’s a mother.  Honestly, a lot of the things she does baffles me and I hope I don’t need so many skills when it’s my turn.  She can fix almost anything in the house, she can scrimp on money to leave extra for me to spend, she can cook and clean and handle our finances, all the while never running out of energy.  I think about cooking sometimes and it makes me tired.  I think about the laundry stacking up and leave for just one more day.  I see the clothes lying everywhere and consider them part of my personal “style.”  Meanwhile, she’s bustling around vacuuming the whole house, hanging up my clothes, taking care of her plants, investing in stocks, teaching herself programming, auditing classes at the local community college, and working on a few projects for her job.

photo credit:

photo credit:

There’s also truly something to be said for a motherly touch.  It instantly soothes me, between a combination of the warmth, gentleness, and pure psychology of knowing it’s my mother caressing my forehead when I’m ill.  I remember a Vick’s VapoRub commercial that advertised the effectiveness of their solution combined with a mother’s hands to soothe a sick child in bed.  It really struck me because it’s completely true!  A little bit of cooling and heating ointment, plus the soft touch of my mother and I would feel so much better!  There’s a tenderness in that sort of treatment that helps as well, melting away all my worries.  I know I’m safe and cared for.  It beats any other option for recovering from illnesses!

It’s funny to hear how mothers are, as I’m sure many of yours are too – protective, concerned, crazy, embarrassing… they’ve got spunk, they’ve got personality, and they’ve got style that none can match.  Some prance around doing silly things, some make you do silly things, but in the end, you can’t help but love them.  I especially love cross-cultural mothers who have had to make the best of their culture in a new culture.  If you’ve never heard of My Mom is a FOB, you should go check it out.  It’s a collaborative blog that chronicles some of the strange, but ultimately endearing things that Asian-American mothers do.  (There’s also a counterpart for fathers.)  And so has been my experience, with way too much advice and quite a few grammatically confusing e-mails.  But hey, it’s hard to consolidate East and West into some sort of cohesive cultural mold!

Really though, what woman do you admire more than your mother?  (And perhaps your parents’ mothers?)

Internal internationalism

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , ,

chinese flagI’ve noticed that I tend to make more Asian type noises when I’m in this part of the world.  I’ve always done that whenever I’m speaking Chinese and occasionally with Asian friends when I’m speaking English, but now I find I’m doing it far more.  It’s strange because I’m usually either in one mindset or another, but now there’s this mixing of speaking English but making more Chinese noises.  This ranges from saying “wah” instead of “whoa,” “aiyah” instead of “ugh,” and “ah?!” instead of “huh?!”  They’re subtle differences, but I notice them and I wonder if other people do too.  Isn’t it interesting how different the sounds we make are?  I guess that means that every language also has it own distinctive onomatopoeias to reflect the way they perceive the sounds that are made.

british flagAdditionally, I’ve been thinking in a British accent lately, which makes no sense to me since I’ve always sucked at pronouncing things the way they do.  Of course, in my mind it all comes out right, but that still doesn’t explain why that happened to begin with.  Perhaps I’m getting confused by all the British and Australian accents I’ve been surrounded by while traveling.  It seems like everyone but Americans are out and about exploring the world, and now I sound like them too, in my mind.  I’ve always switched between thinking in Chinese and English, but I must say this is the first time my English has taken on a new accent.  o.O

I seem to be very confused internally.

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