Family and race

There are people in my family who think that race no longer matters, that they “don’t see color” (unless it’s to attack Black and Brown people, that is), that Asian people are essentially of the same “social status” as White people.

My family is truly filled with a bunch of idiots.

Someone in my family sent a group text to a bunch of us today with a YouTube video randomly uploaded by someone with barely any subscribers (the video had about 50 views) that slanders Joe Biden and said, “after you watch this, you can be the judge of whether our mainstream media is pushing a communist country along and whether they are suppressing the REAL news that needs to be covered.”

I did not watch the video. I do not care to watch a bunch of random trash uploaded to YouTube. While I do maintain a YouTube channel and upload videos, I am very, VERY cognizant of the fact that anyone can upload pretty much any video to YouTube proclaiming something to be true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean IT IS TRUE. I’m sad that my own family members are not smart enough to separate reality from falsehoods. I’m even sadder that said family members are condescending to those of us who actually DO read The New York Times or the Washington Post and think WE are the stupid ones for believing this “fake news,” that they actually believe they are BETTER than us because they follow these conservative networks full of lies.

When you can’t talk politics with your family

It’s nothing unique to my family that we cannot discuss politics in a civil, level-headed manner. Everyone seems to have their opinions set (self included), and no one really wants to budge. Most of my family members’ politics is heavily colored by racism, sexism, hatred of “freeloaders,” and in general, xenophobia for people immigrating into this country who do not look like them. Or, actually, for one of my family members, he just hates all immigrants, even those coming from China, in general and views them as being a leech on our welfare system, mostly “bad people” who want to rape and kill Americans and steal jobs from Americans… Yes, because our safety net is truly worth bragging about amongst all the western, industrialized nations of the world (can you sense the facetiousness in that statement?).

It was my uncle’s 70th birthday yesterday, so I sent him a gift last week and also a message to wish him a happy birthday. He replied to thank me, and also to let me know that while the entire world has been struggling with the pandemic and its restrictions, he was not one of those people struggling. In fact, he was embracing it. He’s been painting the facade of his house, and in his own words, “I’m enjoying camping out. This is fun for me.”

It was frustrating for me to read this. While I am happy that he does not feel like his life has had to changed in a drastic or negative way, it’s disturbing that anyone, during a global pandemic, could possibly say that their life has not changed for the worse, or that they’re actually embracing this. During this pandemic, people have lost jobs, lives, homes. People have lost loved ones. We cannot socialize the way we used to, weddings and even funerals have not been able to happen. International travel is off limits for anyone who is choosing to not be selfish. Going to live performances or even movie theaters has been made unacceptable. Unless you are a total anti-social, anti-people, anti-entertainment hermit, how could your life NOT be affected in a negative way due to this pandemic??

It was even worse when a group text with my uncle and cousins started regarding my cousin noting something about the Trump administration. My uncle immediately called it “fake news,” because apparently when you hear something you don’t like, it’s now totally fine to just write it off as “fake news.” He proceeded to talk about how tech companies like Facebook and Twitter need to be regulated by the government because they are restricting conservative views or “media they do not agree with.” Now, this sentiment is coming from someone who believes overall that the government should regulate LESS, and someone who has never, not even once, logged into Facebook and Twitter. Anyone who has logged into Facebook even once knows that once you show an inclination for a certain political view, you will continue to get served similar articles and points of view; that’s the way the algorithm works. You don’t need to work in the tech industry to know this. If anything, the data show that Facebook and Twitter do not censor conservative content; in fact, conservative media is favored because of all the organic conservative groups on the Facebook platform. It’s unfortunate when people continue to refuse to look at the actual data and facts and instead choose to get their “alternative facts” from their tunnel-visioned sources.

I guess this is why we have Trump as our president — he’s the president for every American who doesn’t want to believe in data, science, and anything that is actually rooted in real history. This country is only getting stupider and more pathetic to observe.

when your mom goes through your things without asking

Last night when I was chatting with my friend, she was talking about how random things you see during the day or things you may do can suddenly trigger a long-lost memory of something that you had seen, witnessed, or been a part of that you had just forgotten after all these years. That’s not to say that it never happened and that your mind was making it up, but rather that so many things have since happened that this memory just got de-prioritized by your brain.

She was talking about her schoolteacher mom and the lessons she was working on for her students, and out of nowhere, it made me remember the times when I was in high school, and my mom used to go through my school binder when I wasn’t there. I had all my subjects separated by dividers, and within each of those dividers, I had separated assignments being worked on, assignments completed and grade, notes, and tests. Every now and when I’d emerge from doing household chores, showering, or dressing, I’d catch her at my desk, going through my binder, page by page. The first time it happened, I obviously got really irritated.

“What are you doing?” I asked, in a slightly accusing tone.

“I’m looking at your schoolwork,” she would reply back smugly. “I’m your mother. I have a right to go through your things and see what you are doing in school. I support you and provide a roof over your head.”

It was so rude and disrespectful, but in my mother’s view, it’s impossible for a parent to be rude or disrespectful to one’s child; that can only go one way, meaning only the child can be disrespectful or rude to her parent. When she’d see any test or graded material that was less than a B, she’d interrogate me with empty questions, accuse me of talking too much on the phone and spending too much time with friends instead of studying and preparing for tests. When she’d see As or anything positive, she’d say absolutely nothing — no compliments, no words of congratulations, no “I’m proud of you.” I let it go because I was clearly powerless: what was I going to do — refuse to let her go through my things? She already had spies watching me at school, reporting back exaggerated falsehoods and would call my friends behind my back to confirm that I was, in fact, actually with them and not running off with deadbeat losers and boys. She didn’t realize that I knew all of this and that my friends actually told me.

In retrospect when I look back on this, I realize even more what a massive failure in parenting this was. Instead of going through the contents of my backpack or binder, she could easily have just asked me how school was going and ask specific questions about my subjects the way the average good parent actually would, the way I hear parents of today and 20 years ago having done. We could have had what many parents try to facilitate with their children, which is trust and open communication. She clearly didn’t want this. She wanted to feel powerful, to feel like she could do whatever she wanted and could control me. She said she “had no time” because she was busy working and putting a roof over my head. Oh really? But somehow, she made the time to go through all my things and ask people to snoop on me?

The best decision I ever made was to leave home, and stay away from home. She knew no one on the East Coast who could spy on me as a student, and she sure as hell would not know anyone who could follow me all over New York City as a working adult. It’s been refreshing, particularly in the last seven years, to force my mother to realize that she has absolutely no control over me, my life, or anything that happens to me. She cannot take credit for everything I’ve accomplished, because if she does, she should also take “credit” for my brother’s untimely death.

16 years later

My friend is in town visiting for the weekend, and we were reminiscing on our college days when we took three different trips to New York City and all the funny things that had happened. One thing I completely forgot that happened our second trip: it was so cold and windy that my friend’s pores on her legs started bleeding during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. We had come for our second trip together just the two of us during Thanksgiving week 2005, and it was probably the coldest visit we’d had to New York. We had to get her to a bathroom to wash off the blood and some bandages from a local Duane Reade.

During our combined three trips, we visited probably every major museum together while quizzing each other about each others’ art history knowledge. We both took Advanced Placement Art History in high school, and in college, I took another semester of it. She is one of the few people I know who has actually taken a real art history class (even though she didn’t do so well in it, nor did she really retain the knowledge or love of it, but well…).

Our physical selves haven’t changed very much since our 2004 trip. We looked back on old photos that Chris put up on our Chromecast, and we more or less look exactly the same. I can still wear the same clothes that I had back then, too, if I really wanted to. Our minds have certainly gotten older, though.

Paranoia at its finest

I haven’t called home since the day after I came back from San Francisco. I sent my mom flowers to acknowledge her “birthday” a couple days after her birthday two weeks ago, though. She expects a gift around the time of her birthday, but not on the day of her birthday because that would be going against Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs about no celebration of birthdays or holidays (it seems like a total crock because she wants what she is not supposed to have according to her chosen religion, but hey, that’s what she wants). Part of the reason I haven’t called home was due to work stress and drama. The other part was because I just needed to decompress from all the pointless arguments that happened where my mom, as per usual, insists people (including me, of course) have wronged her endlessly and that she’s 100 percent innocent and has never done a single thing wrong.

I called today after work, which was probably a mistake. I regretted it as soon as I heard her cold, testy voice. She immediately started saying that because of something someone else caused (me) where she did nothing wrong, she’s now being “persecuted.” I had no idea what she was dramatizing, but whatever it was, it was clear she had her finger pointed at me as the one to blame.

Apparently shortly after I left, my aunt, who lives upstairs, hosted a large gathering of JW friends, and while hosting all these guests, she never bothered inviting my parents. My mom was livid and ran through all the reasons that my aunt wouldn’t invite her. “But I put two and two together, and I know what happened,” she said. “You told your cousin bad things about me, and he told your aunt, and that’s why your aunt is mad at me and doesn’t want to invite me!”

A previous version of myself would be angry to the point of yelling. I’d raise my voice, tell her that it was all a paranoid, made up story she decided to fabricate in her head and run with. I’d get soft feet, feel my throat drop into my stomach, and feel small. I’d stand there, scared of her response. The current version of myself merely stated that I never spoke with my aunt; I did no such thing. She can believe whatever made up stories she wanted to believe, but (and I love doing this) “God knows I did nothing wrong, so you can believe what you want to believe and make up whatever you want.”

The paranoia was obvious. She started raising her voice, saying she never “directly” accused me. I’m not stupid, I said plainly, and I wasn’t born yesterday. She’s blaming me, and it’s not true. She then moaned on and on about what a good child my aunt’s eldest son is, how “he tells his mother everything and obeys her from her head to her toe. He would even tell her when he has sex with his wife (yep, this is a real quote) — that’s how much he cares about his mother!” This is her way of comparing, saying I do not obey, I am not enough of a daughter, that I am a terrible child who is “against her parents.”

If I wanted to get a really nasty reaction out of her, I could have responded, “Yeah, I really love that you keep comparing me to my aunt’s oldest son. Constantly comparing — it’s so nice of you! I mean, that’s what you used to do to Ed — constantly compare him to ‘the kids’ upstairs.’ You and dad used to repeatedly call him ‘useless,’ ‘brainless,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘idiot,’ ‘moron,’ ‘dumb.’ And where is Ed now? Hmmmm….”

But I refrained and I held it in. Because I recognize that will get me nowhere. It will get us nowhere. Ed and I had an emotionally and verbally abusive upbringing, and it ended up being a huge contributor of his ultimate downfall. That “upbringing” isn’t over for me because I still have to endure all the nastiness of my parents to this day. But there’s line you have to draw to be an independent, healthy adult, where you acknowledge that you cannot “blame” your parents for everything bad in your life, that you have take ownership of your own life.

And that’s what I am trying to do. I’m drawing an invisible line to separate myself from my parents, to prevent their constant criticisms and fabricated stories from getting the best of me and my psyche. I refuse to endure the constant abuse, to try to continue rationalizing the made-up stories she keeps creating in her head. The world is not “out to get her” the way she thinks. The world… just is what it is. It’s not the warmest, friendliest place, but it’s also not full of evil at every corner, either.

Living for nothing.

I emailed my dad a couple days ago about the WWII congressional gold medal that his dad would posthumously get awarded. I told him about this last year when my uncle let me and our other cousins know about it and although I never knew him, it still made me feel proud to know that our grandpa had served in WWII as a Chinese American. I think it’s something our whole family should be proud about. But, from what I can tell, my dad seemed indifferent to all of it. He seemed to think nothing of it and didn’t even care that it was happening or that regional ceremonies would be held for it around the country, or that family members such as himself would actually be invited to go. He had no reaction to the article, no reaction to his dad’s name being on the list, and no reaction to the ceremonies. He just didn’t care.

As far as I know, at this point, I am not even sure what he cares about. The house is in disrepair, smells like mold, and even has mice running around inside it now. The rentals are in disrepair and far from being in a state to rent out, and he doesn’t want to work on them. There are many items in the house he said he would give away or sell on Craiglist, and he’s made no action to move forward on any of it. What exactly is he doing all day? Is he just living for absolutely nothing?

Helpers as servants who lack humanity

I had dinner with a friend who recently moved back to New York City from Hong Kong. With her husband’s expat package, they had a full-time housekeeper/nanny included. Because my friend is originally from New York, she never really knew what it was like to have this level of service at home, and she was appalled to hear from other housekeepers and nannies who were friends with her nanny that these hired helpers are oftentimes mistreated, abused (verbally and even physically), and treated like second class citizens in the places where they are supposed to call home. In one home, cameras were in every room in the home, so the nanny was constantly being supervised, and because both she and the family she was hired to help were Filipino, she could not even speak openly, fearing her words would be recorded and listened to. Another housekeeper/nanny shared that she would accompany the family to group meals, but only be able to eat at the end of the mea when everyone else had finished, when only leftover food was ready, and she’d be rushed to finish in less than ten minutes because they had to reach the next place. During the meal, she had to tend to the child.

This type of classicism and abuse is “normal” in rich Asian cities like Hong Kong, though. Filipino women come to Hong Kong on work visas to be cheap labor for middle and upper class Hong Kong families, leaving their own children and families behind to care for richer families who will provide them incomes to then send home to their families. In most cases, these helpers never see their children grow up, and instead, they end up going home only when their children are grown so that the cycle continues: their children move to Hong Kong to care for the next rich family, while they stay in the Philippines to care for their grandchildren.

My friend took this to heart and tried to become friends with her nanny; her home ended up becoming the hangout spot for the nannies to congregate safely and even have dinner parties. I found this endearing and comical at the same time. At least they felt they had a safe space at her home and could trust her, but it does make me sad to know that since my friend has left, their safe space is now gone.

When parents act like children

This week, I’ve unsurprisingly been thinking about my family and their behavior over the last weekend. I opted out of an extended family dinner because my uncle refused to eat at any Asian establishment, fearing that Chinese people would be there who have Coronavirus (yes, my uncle is Chinese. Yes, he’s racist against his own kind). My cousin, who was trying to not create any drama and except the stupidity for what it was, didn’t understand why something like this would bother me. I am not sure if it’s because my cousin is just not a particularly intelligent or deep person, or if he just refuses to acknowledge problems (it is likely a combination of both of the above).

While this was transpiring, my mom was thrilled that I wasn’t going to the dinner at my aunt’s (upstairs). She hates it when I spend time with extended family members. She thinks they always want her to pay for dinners and food and “expect” this of her. My dad was being his usual hermit self, refusing to interact with me and throwing tantrums when he was dissatisfied with anything. I started thinking about all these behaviors and how toxic they all are. The “normal” that Ed and I grew up with is not normal and doesn’t really make for future independent, happy people. It actually makes for what Ed actually became: highly insecure, immature, dependent, paranoid. When I come back from these trips and inevitably experience episodes such as the ones outlined above, I try to decompress, read psychology articles about how all of this is wrong, unhealthy, and how I’ve emerged stronger in spite of all this. It seems to be the only thing that really gives me comfort when I’ve come from a place of total paranoia, lack of common sense, and dysfunction. My uncle always used to say that every family has its own level of dysfunction, so our family wasn’t much different than any other family. While it’s true that every family has its level of “dysfunction,” it’s not true that our family is just like every other family. We have generations of dysfunction, anger, resentment, and lack of relations. Even if you wanted to define that as “normal,” it certainly is not “right.”

A recent article I read about how to raise happy, independent children stated:

“We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early, middle and late adulthood. By contrast, psychological control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental wellbeing. Examples of psychological control include not allowing children to make their own decisions, invading their privacy and fostering dependence.”

The first sentence is funny to me because… well, duh.

That’s funny because that last statement is 100% our mother. We were rarely allowed to make our own decisions. When I was 13, I used to get into loud shouting matches about how to even wear my hair. “Privacy” as a concept never existed; door knocking did not exist: my dad or mom would barge into the bathroom or my bedroom without asking, expecting me to be fully clothed.

Ed used to recount that he had vivid memories as a child of trying to get our dad’s attention, but our dad would be so caught up in the basement, talking to himself constantly, a nasty habit that Ed himself picked up, that he’d completely ignore him. After years of neglect, lack of attention, and constant criticism, Ed gave up on our dad and stopped speaking with him at all intentionally. Our dad picked up on this, and instead of addressing the issue, did the exact same thing back to Ed, not even referring to him by name and only by “him,” “that guy,” and even “that.” He never acknowledged Ed’s birthday from Ed’s teen years until after Ed died.

My mom said a few days ago that if she died tomorrow, “You would have nothing! You’d be so poor!” So in other words, these are words she uses to make me feel dependent on her, for her to feel like she has control over me and my life. I’m 34 years old today. I work, have my own income and place to live, and am married to someone who also works and is able-bodied. I would not have nothing or be poor if she were to die tomorrow.

These words used to affect me a lot more when I was actually living at home or in college, depending on her and my dad. Now, 12 years after graduating from college, they don’t make me numb the same way they used to. Now, I just feel sorry for them.

a day filled with joy and roses

This Saturday was the day I had reserved for my parents. My mom really is hell bent on our “immediate family” spending time together when I am in town. She hates it when any of my cousins or my aunt or uncle are there. That is not “real” family time because she cannot be herself and has to put on an act. It’s actually a similar sentiment, but not exactly the same, of Chris’s mother, minus the latter sentiment of needing to put on a show.

The unfortunate part of this ideal desire for “family time” is that we really have nothing to do together other than eat… and listen to their gossip or complaining. My parents and I have little in common. We do not enjoy the same activities, and we do not have the same interests. I’ve never been able to be myself around them because they don’t really care about the topics and causes I care about. My dad’s idea of a good day is watching YouTube videos nonstop, including eating all his meals in front of the computer screen. My mom actually has to nag him to eat at the dinner table with her, even when I am home. My dad is also the king of complaining. He will criticize any and every idea you have. When my mom suggested we go to Japantown, he grunted and retorted, “Why do we always have to go there? It’s all the same all the time!” When my mom suggested we eat at San Tung, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, my dad made his usual disapproving sounds and said that the restaurant is going downhill, the prices are inflated, and that the only thing keeping the restaurant afloat is its signature dry fried chicken wings dish (this is a restaurant that has been going strong for 20+ years, and every single day of the week has a huge queue of people waiting to eat in as well as do takeout). When I suggested we go to Land’s End, he said he didn’t want to walk because he already walked around the block twice this morning for his daily exercise (sounds exhilarating). But we ended up going to Land’s End, and my mom said it would be good to be outside since the day was quite clear and warm. About .4 miles of the .45 miles from Land’s End to the Legion of Honor, a relatively flat walk except for one small hill and a single set of stairs, he threw a massive temper tantrum and started yelling at me.

“You know, where are we going?” His voice was becoming shrill. I wasn’t even bracing myself; I realized in this moment that I wasn’t scared of what he was going to say, and it was one of the first times in my life that I didn’t have a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach when his voice would rise. “This walk is aimless and pointless! There’s nothing to see! Where are we even going to? I’m sick and tired of this. I cannot walk like this. I am not acclimated! You need to get acclimated to do this type of walk! You can do what you want! I’m going back!”

“You have Golden Gate Park right outside your door, and Land’s End right in your backyard, and you cannot even enjoy it!” I shot back at him. “You take walks around the block for exercise that don’t even last 20 minutes. You should be getting at minimum 30 minutes of physical activity every day, and if you are going to do that, why not see something scenic? What do you want to do, sit at home on your computer all day? How is that doing anything productive or even enjoyable? Do you think spending time on your computer is family time together? We are supposed to be spending time together, so what is so wrong about taking a WALK?” I was growing more and more enraged the more I spoke and finally cut myself off. I was surprised my mom didn’t interject to shut me up.

My dad walked off without another word. “I don’t have to deal with this!” I shouted at him as he stomped away.

My mom stayed with me and continued walking. She smiled weakly. She still said nothing. I then ranted to her about how rude and childish he’s been since I’ve come home, how he’s barely spoken to me or even acknowledged me other than to ask random questions about work out of the blue.

“What do you expect me to say — he had no one to teach him better when he was young,” my mom said to me, shrugging her shoulders. “Do you think I have it easy every day with him?”

We got back to the car eventually, after bickering with each other about other fun topics. My dad was cleaning the windows of the truck and acted as though nothing had happened. Well, I guess that is typical Asian parent behavior; never acknowledge what went wrong and try to sweep it under a rug.

We had dinner at San Tung altogether while sharing a table with two friends, one of whom was introducing the infamous dry fried chicken to the other friend for the first time. She was completely blown away and insisted on ordering a second plate. That was the highlight of my dinner activity, other than eating my beloved dry fried chicken wings and black bean sauce noodles. As a family, we barely said anything to each other while eating.

Then, I went home to do laundry. I had plans to see my friends in the evening, and my mom started panicking, saying she didn’t want me to go. “I don’t want you to go out tonight,” my mom started. “It’s dangerous out there — so many punks and it’s not good to go out at night in the city. Tell them you’ll see them another time.”

I could not believe she was pulling this stunt again. She was trying to get me to cancel on my friends for the evening because of her own distrust of society, paranoia, and possessiveness. There was only one acceptable response to my mom, and that was to tell her I’d cancel. That was not going to happen under any circumstances. So she was not going to be happy. And she wasn’t when I refused.

“Why can’t you just be nice to me?” she shrieked. “I always treat you so well and I’ve never done anything wrong to you, and you have to be so mean and rude to me! You just want me to worry, don’t you? You have no consideration and are just selfish! You just want me to worry and my health is already going downhill!”

I’m not going to be brought down. I will rise above. I will ignore these false and baseless accusations and do what I want because I am an adult who can have an adult life.

It is also debatable that she has “never done anything wrong” to me, but that’s another story for another day.

“You are not going! I will not let you go!” she yelled. “You are making me VERY ANGRY right now!

I didn’t respond because how do you even respond to this delusional talk? You just can’t. So I told her I’d be back in 3.5 hours and left.

Yep, it was just another day in the life of my parents’ household, another searing reminder to me about why I have zero desire to move back to San Francisco and be anywhere closer to them. On a walk around the Napa resort one early evening this week, a colleague asked me if coming back home for these trips made me homesick and want to move back home.

“No,” I immediately said without taking a breath. “Actually, it’s a reminder to me that I made the right decision to move away, and the feeling hasn’t changed in the slightest.”

She seemed surprised, but she nodded her head. She also has moved away from home, but has every intention to move back to her home after a few more years away in another country.

I love my parents, but at a distance. Some people judge me for it, but I don’t really give a fuck. There is a reason human beings were created with legs and not roots. We have to outgrow our parents and move on with our lives to mature and become our own true selves. I was never going to grow properly under their roof and rulership. I would have been stunted, just like my brother was. And we all know where he is now, as sad as it is. But as sad as that reality is, it only makes me more angry and see red everywhere.

If I never left, I’d have no perspective. I’d just live in a small bubble, completely ignorant to all the possibilities that exist outside of the Bay Area. And ignorance is not bliss.

“Honor your father and your mother”

I think it could go without saying that every world religion has some sort of written mandate on how one is supposed to treat one’s parents. In the Bible, Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother.” In other words, respect them, treat them well, and (arguably) obey what they say.

But what are you supposed to do when you are grown adult child, yet your parent acts like a child? Or, even worse, they barely even acknowledge you and act like you aren’t even there?

I came home after a long bus ride back from Napa today and arrived at the house. My dad was home, on his computer as per usual, and I came in and said hi. He said nothing. He continued watching his YouTube video. I thought maybe I didn’t speak loud enough. I said hi again a second time. Still no response. I said, “Hey! Are you okay?” And he finally looked up for a moment, still failing to make eye contact with me, and said, “Oh, I was just watching something on the YouTube.”

Yeah, no kidding. He was so busy watching YouTube, which he does all day anyway unless he has errands to run, yet his daughter is only in town for a few days, and he cannot even look up to say a proper “hello.” I was trying to keep my voice level and not say anything too passive aggressive, but I could feel my blood pressure going up.

Being antisocial is what my dad is — he doesn’t have any social skills at all to the point where it is painful to observe, but not being able to say hello is just downright ridiculous and not excusable. I always wonder how it is that a person could turn out this way, and if we really could blame their “upbringing” as so many people always resort to. Or, is it that at a certain point, it’s really on the individual to take the responsibility for what they lack. I try to accept it for what it is because I know I will never be able to change him, my mom, or anyone really, but it is vexing beyond comprehension in some moments. I feel like I want to shake him sometimes and say, “WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR YOU TO DO SOMETHING SO BASIC AND HUMAN?”

I am powerless and cannot do anything to change the situation.