I am a huge disappointment to my parents. There, I said it. But it’s not because I didn’t become a lawyer or a doctor, an accountant, a pharmacist, nurse — heck, not even a dental assistant — after university. And it’s not because I’ve dyed my hair every neon shade and pierced a few places, or because I joined a vegan hippie commune, or did some Burning Man stuff. It’s not because I cut weekend Hmong school, didn’t go to church, and seriously considered getting a full back tattoo in my twenties. It’s not even because I quit my job in television to become something even more impractical such as a full-time writer and artist.
No, I am a huge disappointment because I just can’t quite explain who I am to my parents, or why I’m compelled to share my messy thoughts out loud.
You see, my parents are all about flying under the radar. They fled the Communist regime and subsequent genocide in Laos during the 1970s, and arrived in the United States as teenaged refugees protected by both the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act and the 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. They skipped the 1960s entirely, and missed the whole context of the civil rights movement. They didn’t know that Asian immigrants and American-born Asians had been barred from U.S. citizenship until 1952.
My parents couldn’t imagine protesting against the state without being inevitably crushed by it. My parents had never even met an American who wasn’t a soldier until they landed here. America wasn’t so much the “land of opportunity” or the “great society” touted by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson — a superior republic compared to communist nations through the orthodox ideals of democracy, free markets, and the all-American dollar — than it was a bomb shelter for the shrapnel of their blasted lives. A safe place to hide indefinitely.
In America, my parents wanted to disappear. And we did, in a way.
Ali Wong tells this hilarious joke in her 2016 Netflix special Baby Cobra that cracks me up every time, about the difference between Fancy Asians (East Asians) and Jungle Asians (Southeast Asians). Of course, if it was anyone other than Ali Wong…