Memoir of sorts: My journey through East Asian California

journey through california
Ameena Golding/Staff

A
h, yes, new beginnings. I believe this calls for a bittersweet journey down memory lane. This particular individual, who once existed in a state of naiveté and, depending on your definition of this particular word, innocence, currently exists in a different capacity, the pieces of which threaten to change yet again as I begin my last year of college.

The night before I began my college career, a sudden wave of tears began to inch outward from my closed eyes. Sleep would not find me on that particular night.

Change is conducive to emotional maturity (sometimes), so I assume that I am a proponent of it. So when the old ways of suppressing emotion in search for some semblance of peace no longer worked, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I, too, in fact, am susceptible to human feeling. I began to question why I had equated my home with the word “hellhole” and fear and sorrow permeated my heart as I realized the life I had known would no longer exist in the capacity I had been accustomed to.

I grew up in a somewhat stereotypical East Asian family. Uncharacteristic of experiences regarding PoC individuals feeling incredibly aware of their physical differences from others, I grew up with individuals who looked like me. We all went to Chinese/Korean/Japanese school on the weekends and all carried, in our respective cultural DNAs, a predisposition to tie our senses of worth to the height of our academic achievements. Needless to say, I sooo obviously enjoyed high school.

…when the old ways of suppressing emotion in search for some semblance of peace no longer worked, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I, too, in fact, am susceptible to human feeling.

On one particularly memorable day in my first year of high school, I stood audience to my friend, who chose to rant about a practice (now diminished) in which the administration blocked freshmen from taking APs outside of language courses. Of course, that meant for me and the particular friend in question that we could take only AP Chinese.

Ugh, I can take calc already. I don’t fucking need algebra 2 again, as of course, she had already been tutored in the stated subject one summer ago, along with myself and a couple of other friends. I mentally commended her studious tendencies when she proceeded to say, I’ll just self-study for it. Because as much as I’d liked to believe in my industrious inclinations, I wasn’t about to go out of my way to make myself look thatttt much better than my peers.

Of course, news of such conduct spread like wildfire among individuals in my community, and I suddenly came home to parents who questioned why I could not achieve the same standard of excellence.

Why don’t you study harder? Look at (insert name here) she’s going to go so far in life.

Having heard variations of such fault-finding throughout my adolescence, I found myself unsurprised at such conduct. But my 14-year-old self decided she had put up with enough, and I retorted, Yeah, one calc class. She’s suddenly going to have an epiphany on the meaning of life.

On good days, my parents would merely comment on my rebellious nature. On bad days, we’d engage in shouting competitions to see who’d back down first. A textbook would be thrown here, a plastic chair flung there and eventually, I’d forgotten how to interact with my parents without screaming. Combine all that with the SoCal heat, a home with no functioning air conditioning and, well, “hellhole” seems about right.

I’ve been reminded of the impermanence of things in life, things so easily changed given shifts in circumstance.

But the night before I left SoCal, my intense aversion to all things related to high school paled in comparison to the sadness I felt once I realized my parents had tried their best. As my prolonged anger began to subside in the face of imminent goodbyes, I suddenly grasped the depths of the sacrifices they had made so I could carry on, unburdened by the troubles they had encountered as young adults. I remember being surprised at my capacity for shedding so many tears all at once and watching the night sky slowly shift to pale blue, signaling the dawn of a new day.

I turned off my parents’ 4:30 a.m. alarms and decided to wake them up at 5:30. They both jumped out of bed once they realized they had slept past their alarms and muttered to one another that they had really gotten old. Rushing me and my sisters out of the house, they were afraid I would get the last pick of everything in the residence halls. Thankfully, they didn’t notice how swollen my eyes were.

I fell asleep somewhere during the six-hour trek from SoCal to NorCal, and when I woke up, the freeway suddenly had five lanes. “平平起來了? 我們到了!” (Ping Ping, you’re up? We’re here.) My mother kept looking back and smiling at me, pursing her lips in such a way that I knew she was trying to keep herself from crying. I smiled back but looked away when tears threatened to fill my eyes once again. One night later, we said our goodbyes.

My trip down memory lane has shown me nothing, really — nothing more than the transitions and sadness we all face at different points in our lives. I have discovered, however, in writing this piece, how much I’ve evolved since coming to college and how much I’ve been reminded of the impermanence of things in life, things so easily changed given shifts in circumstance.

I am wrong, then. My trip has proven something. This piece stands as a testament to the fact that I once existed in this capacity, as a documentation of my experience so that I am not relegated to a position in which my interactions with the world mean nothing.

Because they do mean something. What, specifically?

I am not quite sure yet.

Contact Ru-Ping Chen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roxychen_56.