Take Pride in Your Parents

When I was 16 years old, I found my hero in a brash, loud and unapologetic Korean-American comedian: Margaret Cho. In her stand-up special, she imitated her mother’s reaction to Cho’s sitcom All-American Girl getting picked up by a major television network on Mother’s Day. Cho scrunched her face, nearly closed her eyes and tilted her neck back and started speaking in a heavy Korean accent, “This is the beeeeesst Mother’s Day ever!” She paused then said, “Oh, there was another Mother’s Day that was a little bit better.”

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Comedians doing impressions of their mothers is nothing new. As a teenager who was “fresh off the boat” from Japan, I was astounded by how truthfully, graciously, and hilariously Cho captured the struggles and celebrations for the children of Asian immigrants in America today.  Many of us struggle with having Asian parents with a heavy accent and relentless chutzpah, but our parents’ accents are not signs of failure or incompetence. They are symbols of bravery. I found my stories of being a child of immigrant parents mirrored in Cho’s storytelling.

While I was born in Los Angeles to a Japanese mother and a biracial Japanese/African-American father, I spent the majority of my life in Japan as a striking anomaly in a largely homogenous Asian society. I never felt fully Japanese, nor fully American. I am one of 1.8 million Americans who identify as multiracial but also part of a larger demographic known as “third-culture kids,” living “in-between” two or more cultures.

When I was in high school, my parents divorced and my mother uprooted us to Hawaii. She wanted a better life and education for my sister and me; no plan, just a sheer will to “make it” in America. A product of decades of Asian immigrants coming to work as farm laborers in the Aloha state, nearly every one in four Hawaii residents identify as multi-racial. My mother hoped that in multi-racial Hawaii, her children could be accepted as Americans without having to sacrifice their Japanese identity.

This was not the case.

Within the first week there, my mother left a restaurant in an emotional storm after being overcharged by almost a hundred dollars. This wasn’t the first time this had happened.  “We moved here and still they just see me as some stupid Japanese lady.” My sister would come home crying over being picked on for her strong Japanese accent. We were tired and homesick; crossing 4000 miles to make a new life as Americans only to be seen as nothing more than Japanese tourists. But my mother wouldn’t quit. “I didn’t fly all the way here to mope,” she would say. Uttering the Japanese word for resilience “Gaman” and resolving to “Never apologize. You just got to work harder.”

As shown by Margaret Cho, Bobby Lee, and even Constance Wu from ABC’s sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, there is a blinding truth of strength, tenacity, and fearlessness exhibited by Asian immigrant parents that come to America to make a better life. Even with exaggerated accents and a tone-deafness to American culture, this is not their detriment nor does it encompass their entire identity; it is part and parcel of what makes them fearless.

In a video celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander artists in media, actress Amy Hill confessed, “I was totally embarrassed by (my mother) as a child. I think many of us have immigrant parents who we might have been embarrassed by as children,” she recounted. “She was never embarrassed for having an accent…An accent is just one aspect of who they are. It is part of who they are.”

So let us unabashedly celebrate our parents who had the audacity to believe in a better life to move to a new land. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are now the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. Accent or not, cultural difference or not, the fabric of who we are as Asian Americans is the product of the parents who never gave up.

My sister is in a new school and has friends who think it’s “super cool” that she had come from Japan. My mother is remarried. I am in college working in Journalism and exploring a new passion for the Middle East. I called my mother the other day to share an exciting recent development in my life. She listened and said in a heavy accent, “Good for you. You worked hard and now you’re succeeding.”

The words of Cho stay with me still: “The fact that I can be successful means, (to my mother), that on a very fundamental level, America works and things are getting better in her lifetime. It’s such a beautiful thing to share.”

 

Anthony Berteaux is a Journalism junior at San Diego State University. On campus he is the assistant Opinion editor for his campus newspaper, and the Campus Editor At Large for the Huffington Post. In his spare time, he runs a radio show on KCR College Radio and is a co-founder and web editor of his publication, ProgressME. He also acts as the Vice President of Public Relations for Students Supporting Israel. He was a previous participant in the Israel Project’s Tower Tomorrow Fellowship. On campus, Anthony cares about progressive politics, East Asian politics, and Israel. He has had pieces published in the Huffington Post, Tower Magazine, the Daily Aztec, the Union Tribune San Diego, and the Times of Israel.

 

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

One Sikh Girl’s Struggle to be Accepted as American

My earliest memories of Louisiana are clouded by accents I barely could decipher and confusing Cajun dishes I had never seen before in my life. Even though I was born in the United States, moving from New York to the Deep South was a culture shock for both me and my classmates who were not used to seeing a Sikh girl walk into class with a thick braid past her hips every day. My classmates had never heard of Sikhi, and I was bullied for my faith and race. A girl in my sixth-grade class threatened to cut my hair off, and the other girls refused to talk to me during recess. I became reserved and quiet, convinced that my otherness meant I didn’t deserve their friendship; that I was in some way not an American.

 

UPDATEDAt age thirteen, I cracked. Cutting my hair for the first time and watching my poor mother cry as I, in her eyes, lost an important part of my identity and upbringing in a matter of seconds. But upon my return to middle school, my classmates marveled at my shoulder-length curls. One girl claimed, “Wow, maybe guys will actually like you now!” Others finally made an effort to talk to me at lunch.

Still, the difference in their behavior stung and it took me six years to fully accept my identity and move past what happened to me.  Even though I escaped by going to boarding school where I made friends who were genuinely interested in my Sikhi culture, I battled bitter memories and depression throughout my teen years, recalling the words of those who harassed me.

These seemingly “un-harmful” instances are sometimes considered a part of growing up, but they can have a long-lasting effect on how kids view the world around them and how they socialize with others. Bullying can cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety. As an Asian-American, I know about the culture of shame that surrounds mental health. Trying to uphold the “model minority” myth, it can be difficult for Asian-Americans to seek help and even harder to cope when one lacks a close religious or ethnic community.

Often times I hear desi aunties say, “This is not our country. We are seen as immigrants no matter what, and we have to deal with discrimination if we want to live here.” This is alarming because the community has accepted the discrimination and internalized it like how I did when I was little. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken in the Asian-American community. We deserve our place in American society. We are important. We are Americans. We are worthy.

 

Ravleen Kaur is a student at The Ohio State University studying public affairs and public health. Her hobbies include drinking over-sweetened coffee and doing Bhangra in public spaces. She is currently planning to run away from her home state in the Deep South and eventually work in the public health field.

 

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

Moving Through the Storm: An Entrepreneur on Overcoming Bullying

Nobody should have to deal with bullying. It sucks.

My cycle started at home with an angry and abusive dad. It continued to church, with an abusive and frustrated older youth, and continued into school in a post-9/11 world when nobody was really educated on Indians in America. I got all the normal stuff – Osama, Apu, Terrorist, got a bomb?, plus a few extra because I wasn’t just Indian; I was fat and Indian.

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In high school, I turned to football and ice hockey as a means to release some of my frustration. It gave me a shared sense of team and identity, and I found leadership where I could serve other people. I found a lot of happiness in that.

I wish I could tell you that bullying is a thing of the past. It’s not. That it stops when you “grow up.”  It doesn’t.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t change the trajectory of how it affects your life. I wish I had grown up with the stories of those like me. Of those who had struggled and overcome. So let me tell you how I did it:

  1. Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts: Build confidence.
  2. Choose people who make you happy: Build joy/trust/
  3. Find courage: Let yourself love. Do what you love.
  4. Read: Learn new things. Find new hobbies.
  5. Change the world: Execute on something you want to see different in the world.
  6. Serve: Find yourself in service to others. The joys of giving are unparalleled.

The truth is falling into any minority group carries with it burdens that never seem to disappear.  In my world of startups, it could mean more challenges in raising capital, securing partnerships, or gaining respect/credibility for the same or more work of people around you who don’t look like you (read what’s happening to Asian Americans in Silicon Valley.) It won’t change unless we tackle them at an institutional level involving the C-Suite and ranking political office.

I strive to meet people who have more experiences and stories in effectively dealing with these adversities so that I can learn. I seek out and listen to the stories of people who deal with similar challenges or understand the struggle through a context of their own.

I hope to be that resource for others too. We’re all people. The key to humanity is remembering your humanity and recognizing theirs. Nothing and nobody is binary.

Your challenges are important and the resilience they form within you will support you for a lifetime. Choose to see difficulties as opportunities and find communities of people, individuals or small groups, whom you align and can confide with. Find ways to support them. Start by helping them and watch how you evolve past your situation. Every struggle is an opportunity, but there’s no need to tackle life alone.

 

 

Marvin Mathew supports innovation/entrepreneurship full time as the founder of MIG, supporting early stage entrepreneurs by building their products, marketing, and sales. Eager to support solutions at scale, he’s coauthored Innovation, Technology, and Youth, a United Nations publication released during UN General Assembly 2016 looking at how the UN, Industry, and Government can support Youth Entrepreneurs as they solve the challenges outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals. Find him at marvinmathew.com or @MarvinJMathew.

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.