Growing up Asian, nothing short of perfection was expected from mom.
“Perfection” here means being the stereotypical Asian: a smart doctor with straight A’s that brings glory to the bloodline. “Perfection” also meant being a good wife: a master of cooking, cleaning, sewing, and some form of the arts, such as drawing or piano.
To my mother, a woman’s optimal outcome is to marry a smart, rich husband who can take care of her so she can live her post-marriage life worry-free. She did not conform to that life.
She decided instead to pursue a career in finance, and quite a successful one at that. This, however, led to her being the breadwinner of our family and to my parents’ marriage falling apart.
And so, she set out to raise me in that “perfect” imagery, hoping that I would not have the rough life she had since she did not conform to the Vietnamese societal norms for a woman. I took piano lessons and learned most household chores by the age of five. I hated every single moment of it. Much like how my mother rejected being a complacent housewife and decided to brave the corporate world, housework was simply not the life for me.
In Asia, the standard of beauty is a tall, pale-skinned girl who’s charming, gentle and soft-mannered. I’m the exact opposite: at 167 centimeters tall, I have absolutely no brain to mouth filter, and I love getting my hands dirty. On Feb. 16, I finished a combat robotics event. We didn’t win, but we were one victory away from the semifinals in a competition against 54 other bots.
Proud of the work my teammates and I put in, I excitedly called my mom after the event, gushing over the details. She passively listened, inserting the occasional “yeah,” and “okay,” before asking who I went with (four male mechanical engineering students).
My mother ended the call with a line I’ll never forget: “I think I birthed you in the wrong gender. When Buddha made you, he forgot your male genitals.” There was no acknowledgement of the competition, no “congratulations for placing so well.” This is not the first time my mom has made a joke about birthing me in the wrong gender, and it probably won’t be the last.
I have been told that line countless times by my mom. Even if it’s (mostly) a joke, it still hurts every time I hear it.
Constantly searching for validation that will never come from the person whose opinion matters the most is disheartening, incredibly painful, and just makes you want to give up.
Even so, I don’t think I can ever give up the thrill of making something and seeing it come to fruition, even if my mother disapproves.
I’ve realized I can’t fit into the mold my mother set for me because it’s inauthentic. Because your life is your own, and you should do what makes you happy.It’s okay to chase your dreams because it keeps you authentic. I don’t have to give up myself for the sake of pleasing my parents’ wishes for me to be a stable and peaceful housewife.