I grew up in a White, suburban neighborhood called Kent. My family was one of the few Asian families in the area, which made us stand out, but my parents wanted to share our unique culture with others. They did it the only way they knew how: by locking our doors, shutting our windows, and keeping to ourselves. If someone ever came knocking, my parents would answer, “So sorry, no speaka English.”
Still, my parents did their best to fit in. They put up holiday lights in December, gave me and my sister American names, and encouraged us to learn English, play tennis, and make lots of money. It paid off, too. My English is strong—magnitudes better than my Vietnamese. Surprise! I am Vietnamese, but my superb English skills threw you for a loop. Time, however, would eventually reveal that I neither had a knack for tennis nor the will to choose money over passion, to my parents’ disappointment.
I recently shamed them a couple of weeks ago in fact. A job announcement popped up in my inbox for a Legislative Assistant.
I skimmed through the email and mentally checked off all of my qualifications. I felt I was reasonably qualified for the job, but didn’t want to give up my cushy position as a nonprofit program director to be someone else’s assistant. I get first dibs on leftovers at community events, set my own hours, and am the envy of the entire office with my premium street-side parking spot. Life is pretty good indeed. Then I read:
Salary: $58,000 – $67,500 Annually
I immediately stepped out from my cubicle and announced I was quitting our organization and applying for the position with the City.
“Oh yeah?” my boss, Huy, replied in his usual smug tone. “Whatcha gonna do?”
“I’m gonna be a Legislative Assistant. It pays $58,000 starting.”
“$58,000!? I’ll apply for that job, too! Thanks.” He wished me the best of luck.
Huy has actually been offered some fairly lucrative positions to work for the City. Many of these paid more than twice what he is making now. He passed on all of them. “This work is about passion, not money,” he told me. Huy’s parents would be ashamed.
It’s well known that Asians are predisposed to become doctors, dentists, or engineers. Our civilization perfected acupuncture; our small hands are great for sticking precision tools into people’s mouths; and do I really need to explain what we can do with our math skills? These careers are in our DNA, along with fish sauce and squatting. Any deviations from these life paths are a clear sign of genetic mutation.
Fortunately, our community doesn’t breed many leaders (whew!). Within the Fortune 500, of the 5,028 total corporate executives, only 99 were APIs in 2011. This leads me to one simple conclusion: Huy is a mutant. What kind of Asian wants to be a leader? Scary, yet admirable.
I am happy to know we have freaks like Huy—with aberrations in their social and cultural DNA—that can help our community survive, multiply, and pass on the leadership gene. But there are so many other important traits we need to pass along too, like genes that inspire Asians to become artists, not turn red when we drink, and play basketball like a pro.
Admittedly, as a child I possessed the banana gene (yellow on the outside, white in the inside) and didn’t have a strong understanding of my community or culture. I still have a lot to learn. Through my writing, I hope to explore what it means to play, learn, and be Asian based on my experiences. Topics might range from my childhood, things I did or didn’t learn in school, professional growth, and cultural identity. I hope that my writing provides new and interesting perspectives for everyone to laugh about, enjoy, and discuss. I believe there’s a lot we can learn through humor and creative expression. I encourage everyone to share their comments, thoughts, and ideas with me and each other. Thanks for taking the time to connect.
Read more at PlayingAsian.com—a humorous and satirical blog exploring Asian American issues, identity, culture, and leadership.