The last sibling to graduate from college: my little sister with two Bachelors!
Elizabeth Cohen’s ( a CNN Medical News correspondent) states in her article, “Suicide [is the]second-leading cause of death for Asian-American women 15-24… highest suicide rate among women of any race, ethnicity for that age group…experts cite’model minority’ expectations, family pressures as factors”. I had an aha moment when I read the article,”Push to succeed tied to suicide in Asian American” . A couple of weeks ago, I made a check list ( which can be found here) entitled Ten Indicators You grew up in a Traditional Laotian Household in an attempt to explain my own experience growing up in a strict Asian household. What I did not realize at the time was that there is a technical term applicable to what I went through according to some experts and it’s called, ‘Model Minority’. Noh, one of the researchers explains that ‘Model Minority’ is “the pressure some Asian-American families put on children to be high achievers at school and professionally”. I found myself vigorously nodding my head in agreement with this insightful commentary. While I can’t claim all Asian parents are guilty of this slight, I will base my comments on my own experience .
When I reflect on how my siblings and I were brought up, I have no doubt that my parents put a great deal of pressure on us to be the ‘model minority’. We were expected to do well in school and that meant bringing home straight A’s. Getting just a passing grade was not even talked about because it was unacceptable! I remember how my mother reacted when I brought home my first “D” in Geometry. She was ranting and raving about how I wasn’t trying hard enough and I got so frustrated with her reaction that I challenged her to do the math herself! Of course, I got in trouble for that as well because it was considered talking back. The bottom line is, she did not understand that I hated math and was not good at it. She expected me to do well, period. If I didn’t meet expectations then I was not trying hard enough. This might seem harsh but it was a reality I had to deal with. Surprisingly, this taught me an important lesson which was to always push yourself more than you think is possible. I know now that I could have done better in Geometry, but I used my dislike of the subject to cloud my own reasoning. In other words, it was an easy out for me.
My parents are not the only ones guilty of putting pressure on my siblings and I to meet and exceed academic expectations. Teachers and classmates did as well. My older brother set the bar pretty high academically, socially and athletically. Everybody knew who he was because he excel in all three arena. When we would get his former teachers, they would recognize the last name and the first thing they would say is “I know if you are V’s sibling you are going to be a good student!” What choice did we have since they put it that way! I, for one felt the need and yes, urgency to prove them correct. Even though I felt like the victim in Poe’s renown story the Pit and the Pendulum; trapped and nowhere to go I was determined to do as well as my brother. Later in high school, when my siblings and I would actually compete to see who would get the best report card. The challenge was invigorating because we wanted to be the best.
Teachers were not the only ones who expected us to do well in school ! Some of our classmates automatically assume that we were smart and would be successful . I lost count of how many times I have heard the comment, ” You Asian people are smart, you’ll get an A!” from my friends and classmates. Even to this day, I have old classmates who have resurface and told me they had never forgotten me because I was smart and sweet. I guess in a way it’s flattering to know that people remember you for those positive qualities instead of negative ones. However, as a teenager it was challenging to always be the model student and child.
As a teenager, I wanted to have fun like everybody else, but was not allow as much freedom as my American friends! In the article I mentioned earlier, “The cultural expectations are that Asian women don’t have that kind of freedom to hang out, to go out with friends, to do the kinds of things most teenagers growing up want to do.” (Dr. Dung Ngo, a psychologist at Baylor University in Texas). Sadly I was that teenager. While my friends went out on the weekends partying or cruising, I was stuck working at a steak house with my sister. Also we were not allowed to hang out with male friends because that would look “bad”. We had to lie just so we could go play basketball in brood daylight with them. Most of my American friends did not even have a curfew, they came and go as they please. I was envious and shock that they had so much freedom while I was stuck at home cooking, cleaning and taking care of my younger siblings. Of course like every other teenager, I argue with my parents over this injustice, but they did not relent. My parents were convinced that if they give us girls the freedom to do whatever we had wanted we would not stay focus and finish our school.
The bottom line is my parents’ high expectations of me were suffocating at times, but I managed to not let them push me over the edge and commit suicide like some Asian Americans. Yes, I do feel bitter sometimes that I didn’t fully get to be young and carefree, but I didn’t turn out so bad. I wonder if they were more lax in their expectations how I would be today? Would I still be successful? Would I have been able to find my own way in the world? I don’t know if Asian parents push their children over the edge with their expectations, but I do have to admit it can be frustrating for some to deal with. One thing I know for sure is that some kids do rise up to meet expectations because of their willingness to please those around them and even themselves. Also they exceed expectations because they themselves “buy in” to the idea of a better future.