I would call myself a hybrid Asian. Born in Vietnam, I left the country when I was three years old. My family moved to Canada and I lived there until I was 19, and then we relocated to California. Canada I would say is a more conservative country than the US, but even more conservative is the fact that I am of Asian descent.
All the stereotypes are true. Do well in school, and focus on nothing else except getting straight-As. Aspire to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. My family is filled with people in these professions. I had a lot of pressure because my parents escaped Vietnam post-war. We were the “boat people.” Coming to Canada, we were all poor. Life was hard, so there wasn’t really any time to do anything else except focus on how to survive. Getting into med school or law school was the easiest way to escape poverty. Being part of the "boat people" just meant that the need for that escape was even stronger.
I am not a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer.
Computers entered my life at an early age when screens were still just one color, and we still had phones with rotary dials. I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to have a future in technology. But at the time, I was experimenting with a lot of multimedia and games. It consumed my time quite a bit and consequently, I found school rather distracting—not the other way around!
Unfortunately, this caused a rift to occur between my parents and me. I was spending a lot more time on the computer and less time focused on schoolwork. Although achieving perfect scores on exams was a sport for me if I felt like I wanted to play, I honestly did not find schoolwork very interesting. But as time went on, I spent a lot more time on the computer. I ended up spending so much time on the computer throughout my school life that I started to find ways to trick my parents into thinking that I was working on homework, when in fact I was really finding new things to do on my computer.
This behavior translated into me heading towards a future that was far off track from what had been hammered into my head from my Asian surroundings. My communication with my parents deteriorated. I wasn’t able to communicate with my family about what I liked. I wasn’t telling them really what I was doing in school. I avoided all forms of school talk with my family. Anytime I was asked how my schoolwork was going, I would simply reply “fine.”
Over time, it wasn’t just the direction I was going in that was different from my family. I felt I was completely different from everyone else in my family. My cousins, uncles, aunts, and others were all conforming well to the path that was deemed most secure.
Comparisons were inevitable. Asian parents like to compare their kids to kids of their friends or other family members.
“They’re doing really well in school and are probably going to be a doctor! Why don’t you stop wasting time on the computer and focus on your grades? Your grades suck,” is something I heard often.
The comparisons started inside the family, and later on extended out to my circle of friends. I was in my teens at the time and didn’t really understand the magnitude of how this would end up affecting me as an adult.
The fact that I lead a different life due to early-age curiosity separated me emotionally and intellectually from my family. After school was finished I was in the working world, focusing all my time on technology and writing. My family didn’t really understand what I was doing. I was writing for tech publications, and they didn’t understand how I was able to make an income from these jobs. Looking back, I can understand how coming over from Vietnam, there was no way for my parents to envision how careers can be built on graphics design, game programming, or any other nontraditional jobs.
Ironically, parents always say to their kids “you know you can talk to me about anything.” But kids know that this isn’t true.
Being able to communicate with parents is probably challenging for many people. Not only is there a generation gap, but your interests may totally be different from your parents'. If I combine my lifestyle differences with interests in marijuana, music festivals, or other recreational substances, there’s another chasm in communication between my family and me. I’ll go out on a limb here and say, anyone who participates in these non-mainstream enjoyments will have the same problem. Just look at my interview with top OnlyFans creator Amouranth—I wonder if she can have an open dialog with her parents.
Some of my friends who attend music festivals don’t even tell their parents where they’re really going. Camping is the most common excuse people use when telling their families they’re going to a music festival.
If we could openly communicate our innermost feelings and thoughts with our loved ones, lies and distance wouldn’t have to be a thing. But so often we are trapped within the confines of our own social programming, much of which has been programmed many generations ago.
In late 2021, after turning 40 and my parents approaching their 70s, I was finally able to bridge the gap.
Coming in part 2: how I dismantled generations of shame and created an honest and open dialog with my parents.