Asian parenting and sacrifices

When I was younger, my mother enrolled me in everything possible for me to suck at: dance classes, art classes and the worst — piano classes.

I grew up in Diamond Bar, Calif., a suburb in East Los Angeles county filled with high-achieving and competitive Asian Americans who stuffed their schedules with AP classes and extracurricular activities.

No doubt, there are many people at USC who grew up in similar areas and have their own version of my hometown, but I never noticed the extent that growing up in this specific city with this specific demographic would shape my identity.

I spoke Cantonese at home, went to school, and went to a Chinese prep school called “after school” to learn Mandarin. In high school, the Mandarin school would become SAT school.

It was “normal” to be enrolled in dozens of activities with the ultimate goal to gain entrance to the best college. Except I was never gifted or talented and I would be bitter when pushed, rather than motivated.

My mother would set a timer for me to practice, perched behind me every practice session, attentive as my teacher told her every week what I could improve on, her voice echoing along as I practiced every piece. I had just started learning back then.

“You didn’t practice today,” she was always so quick to say, as I rolled my eyes.  

A few years later, I grew resentful and I quit playing. My refusal to practice meant I was no better than before. Academics getting harder, the mistakes piled up, drama from school clouding my brain. Quitting things, had become synonymous with the heaviness of failure. I wish I could have been a Carnegie Hall playing prodigy, but I wasn’t even half of that.

After many arguments about her quitting, I remember her expression — resigned, disappointed and hollow.

I didn’t know that her face would light up in pride and happiness every time I would play and learn a new song and I didn’t care either.

Our piano is still in the living room years later, collecting dust, with a red satin cloth over the keys. It’s a conversation topic whenever friends and relatives come over.

“Oh, you play?” they would ask.

“Nope, I used to,” I would answer.

After I stopped, the feeling of being a quitter has never escaped my mind. The feeling that I should be doing something to make my parents proud after all that they have done for me.

My mother quit her job to raise me, dedicated countless hours, days and weeks — so my life could be better. And she has never for a second made me feel like it wasn’t worth it.

I can’t even begin to list all of the things my mother has done for me. It’s how she picks up my phone call even when it’s the middle of the night, just so I can talk about something as trivial as somebody who ignored me at school.

She is the voice of reason for all my minuscule issues, the rides to and from school from preschool to high school, the encouragement and praise whenever I need it, and the endless amount of patience — because we all know it was pretty tough to raise somebody like me.

My mother deserves the best for the sacrifices she has made for me. Not just the world, but the whole solar system. But when I see the strands of silver in her straight hair, or the bags under eyes from a lack of sleep, I wonder if even the best would be enough.

From my column, "Asian American Heroine" in Daily Trojan, which ran every other Mondays in Fall 2016.