Belated Chinese New Year (#275)

My husband is Chinese-American.

I’m so white looking, I make a point of assuring any new neighbors of color that I did not vote for Trump.

Our son took after me.

Occasionally, an Asian-American woman would ask me if Baby D’s father was Asian, but no one ever appeared to be surprised that I was his mom.

It was different for my husband. He took Baby D to the grocery store when Baby D was about 2. An old white man got in Andy’s face and asked, “Is that your son?”

Andy said, “Yes.”

The old white man snorted and said, “He don’t look a thing like his daddy!”

Andy replied, “That’s because his white mama traded up races.”

(Okay, no, he didn’t really say that. Or even think it. That’s just what I wish he’d said. Maybe the guy would have had a heart attack and there would be one less racist in America. Andy, of course, just wishes he’d decked the guy.)

Like many first generation Americans, Andy turned his back on all things from the old world. He wouldn’t speak Cantonese. He cooked American/ European cuisines, only buying his first Chinese cookbook after we got together (when he learned I loved hot and sour soup).

Between Andy’s disinterest in Chinese culture and the fact that Baby D was raised by an uptight, white, stay-at-home mom, it’s probably not surprising that Baby D grew up feeling “white”—even though his last name ended in Wong.

In preschool, when Baby D’s diverse class discussed heritage, Baby D’s best mate Nate said, “And you’re Chinese.”

“No, I’m not!” Baby D replied. On the way home, Baby D told me how funny it was that Nate thought he was Chinese.

“But you are,” I told him. “You’re actually genetically more Chinese than white.”

“What?” exclaimed Baby D. “I’m Chinese?”

I sighed. “Yes. And I am a parental failure.”

*****

Now, you can argue that Andy should have been the one to teach his son about his Chinese side of the family, but that’s asking a lot from someone who learned early that survival depends on assimilation. Plus, Andy never cared about American holidays, let alone Chinese ones.

If Baby D was going to learn anything about China, it was gonna be up to me.

Well, me and all the AMWF bloggers in Asia–Jocelyn Eikenburg, Marta, Mary, Susan Blumberg-Kason, and many others who no longer post. They taught me about Chinese traditions like Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn festival.

I found and bought mooncakes in September. We ate them by moonlight on the patio and I told Baby D (and Andy) the different versions of the story of Chang’e.

A selection of red envelopes.

I ordered red envelopes for Chinese New Year and stuffed them with crisp bills. (This began Baby D’s love affair with cash, but that’s another post.)

I persuaded Andy to make nian gao, the one dish he remembered form his childhood.

We found a dim sum place within a few miles that Andy grudgingly pronounced “acceptable.” Baby D discovered nai wong bao and pronounced it “awesome.”

I showed my son lion dances. He loved them.

I got him training chopsticks. He hated them.

Last year, I ordered a few decorations for Chinese New Year: a red tablecloth, some double happiness trivets, a lantern, and a flag. Hopefully the characters on the flag and lantern don’t say, “Ha! Stupid white people will buy anything!”

I told Baby D stories about his great-grandmother, fleeing the communists with her lead-lined teapot.

I tried to get Baby D’s Nai-nai to tell him more about the ghost festival and other superstitions, but she protested that their family was Christian and didn’t do any of that nonsense.

Some parents put their kids in Chinese school on the weekend, but my kid threw a fit at the idea of school instead of sports.

He did eventually announce that Mandarin would be his elective in public school.

I hugged him and exclaimed, “It’s so awesome that you want to learn more about your heritage!”

“Uh-huh. The older kids told me that the teacher has parties for all the holidays! With treats!”

Not exactly the rationale I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.

Perhaps someday he’ll be able to tell me what the characters on my lantern mean.

Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

My husband had Chinese-American parents. Mine were white, uptight, and Anglo-Saxon Protestant/ Atheist.

Andy was expected to obey his parents without question. If his parents said his curfew was 10 PM, Andy was home at 10 PM. If Andy’s father wanted to sit on the couch and watch TV, Andy could forget about participating in Little League or any other sport.

I was expected to obey, but not without question. My mom was an attorney. Dinner table discussions in her house ranged from abortion to capital punishment. Everyone was encouraged to express their own opinions and defend them. If I could present a good argument for a curfew change or pierced ears, these items might be considered. (Lost on curfew, won on pierced ears.) Continue reading Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

Snapped (#241)

My ex-debutante mother trained my siblings and me to be good hosts. She also trained us to be good guests. We brought bread and butter gifts. We found something to compliment in every home. We ate whatever food was placed in front of us without complaint and insisted on helping with the dishes. 

We were groomed to make social occasions run smoothly, with nary a scene. White Anglo Saxon Protestants (i.e., WASPs) with social pretensions avoid conflict and HATE scenes. They are a symbol of ugliness and failure. 

And so common.

Continue reading Snapped (#241)

Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

A woman’s home is her castle. Until her father-in-law shows up.

I’m white woman raised by a former debutante. My racist Southern grandma ran a charm school. As liberated as my mother tried to be, she was still stuck on Rules of Acceptable Female Behavior.

One such rule was “Be an Exemplary Hostess.” When friends came over, they got first pick of snacks, toys, and sleeping bags. They chose the games we played.

When my parents entertained, we children took coats. We handed around hors d’ oeuvres. We got adults drinks. If there was a shortage of chairs, we offered our seats to adults and took the floor. We cleared the table and did the dishes, too. My mother took immense pride in the praise guests heaped upon her for her adorable little helpers.

She shared their praise with us. And since we were many, and desperate for attention, we got a little warped.

Continue reading Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

I was raised by a liberated woman and a man who believed his daughters should mow lawns, change tires, and have the same curfew as their older brother.

My sisters and I crushed in academics no less than my brother. We were better singers, better dancers, and better athletes. Also more popular. (Sorry, Big Bro!)

NASA came to my schools seeking women astronauts. They told us women had better reflexes than men, handled G-forces better than men, and coped better in close quarters better than men and please could we girls consider being astronauts?

I never understood why a person should be more valued because they were born with a penis. I mean, having a penis means you’re kind of fragile and likely to die earlier than a woman.

Continue reading Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

They’re Coming (#238)

When my white family reunites, we plan. A year in advance, a cascade of emails about wedding beach houses, Christmas in New Hampshire, or running a 10K at Thanksgiving begin.

And then there’s my husband’s Chinese-American family. Near the end of October, Andy said, “So we haven’t seen my parents in a while.”

“Yes,” I agreed, smiling. And then stopped smiling. “Wait. Are you saying to want to go see them? Before your brother’s wedding next summer?” (Yes, Denny was finally getting married! But that’s another post.)

“Well…” Continue reading They’re Coming (#238)

Oh, Boy (#232)

My Chinese-American husband grew up to be a successful engineer with two advanced degrees — and a disappointment to his parents. If he got a 4.0, his father Jay would grunt and his mother Sunny would mention a cousin graduating with honors. When Andy got a job at large company, Sunny told him that a government job would be more secure and have better benefits. Continue reading Oh, Boy (#232)

Not By Any Other Name (#227)

When I married my Chinese-American husband, we planned on hyphenating our names. Andy’s parents objected.

A multi-month battle ensued. In the end, Andy kept his name. I kept mine.

This means I lost. I don’t lose gracefully.

I lose grudgefully. I swore that if we ever had a kid, said kid would definitely be an Ashbough-Wong. Continue reading Not By Any Other Name (#227)

Winner, Winner, Olive Dinner (#185)

My Chinese-American husband and I live in Los Angeles. Since my husband is an excellent cook, we don’t go out that often. But when we do go out? There’s always a new Japanese, Indian, or farm-to-table restaurant to try. Andy’s up for anything, which is nice. Most of my white girlfriends won’t even consider sushi. And my friend JM will only go to one restaurant — the Corner Bakery.

When my in-laws visited, my husband and I cooked for them for weeks. Near the end of their visit, Sunny announced that they would take us out to dinner.

I cheered. “Yay! What kind of food would you guys like? A new bistro opened in the Village, or you could try our favorite sushiya in San Pedro.”

Sunny said, “Is there an Olive Garden nearby?”

I sighed. “Of course.” Continue reading Winner, Winner, Olive Dinner (#185)