I have to be honest.
I’ve almost always felt like an outsider.
I’ve felt like an outsider in my family, at church, at school and even with my groups of friends.
As a kid, I would read hundreds of books a year to find where I may fit in, and I really gravitated towards stories of others who felt like outsiders.
Stories like The Secret Garden about a spoiled little girl who grew up in India but then was transported to England after the deaths of her wealthy, neglectful parents or Jane Eyre, about a physically and emotionally abused plain-looking girl who grows up to be an independent governess who falls in love with her benefactor or the coming of age tale Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret?
Although all of the stories were about girls who were lost and alone, I didn’t really relate completely. Partially, it’s because some of these main characters were English characters who lived in a different era, so when I watched the Disney Pixar movie Turning Red this weekend, I had more insight into why.
The opening line says it all:
“The #1 rule in my family: Honor Your Parents.”
In the movie, the main character, a Chinese Canadian 13-year old named Mei Lee, has a hard time honoring and becoming her true self because as she says about her mom,
“All of her hopes and dreams are pinned on me.”
Mei had such a strong desire to be the “good girl” and to not disappoint her mother that at one point, she threw her friends under the bus and hid her creative, artistic talents behind getting straight A’s in Math, French and other more “real” subjects.
In the end, Mei learned to honor her parents AND herself. She realized that the changes she was going through just made her more and more herself, and that it was OK for her to create her own identity. It did not mean she loved her parents any less.
Turning Red was also a movie about suppressing our emotions, and who can’t relate to doing that? (Although this one critic did get a lot of backlash after writing that he didn’t relate to the movie at all, and the movie tired him out.)
(Now, imagine how exhausted the Asian community feels from non-representation or misrepresentation in movies for about 100 years.)
Growing up at home, my parents would fight all the time, and books were my way of escaping the yelling, the anger, and the emotional tornado that ran through our house each night.
I remember writing in my journals a lot, and how those journals would be filled with my imaginations of a different life, of what it would be like, when I grew up and had my own money and my own independence.
My parents also didn’t understand or nurture my highly sensitive nature.
They said I was TOO emotional and sensitive. They often asked why I was crying or being sensitive about something or another, and that definitely didn’t help me to feel like I belonged.
At church, I learned to suppress more emotions, especially after my grandfather passed, and no one seemed to know or say anything, even though the pastor made an announcement to keep our family in their prayers.
And school didn’t help either.
In Kindergarten, a teacher took a drawing I had made and pointed out what I had done wrong and the entire class laughed. Also, when the school did a production of The Wizard of Oz, this teacher pointed at me and said:
“Because of how you look, you’ll be one of the flying monkeys.”
Then, she turned to my best friend, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Shirley Temple look-alike and said:
“Because you look like her, you’ll be Glinda, the Good Witch.”
It changed me.
Before... I was talkative, outgoing and funny.
After... I made myself quieter and a good student, so that I would not get ‘called out’ in front of a class for doing something “wrong” or for looking differently and laughed at, ever again.
I did it to stay safe.
I suppressed a lot of what I wanted to say and how I “felt” about things because those feelings just felt wrong.
Meanwhile, it took a long time before I felt like my parents showed a moment of understanding of who I was.
It may have either been in high school or when I went home after my first year of college.
My dad brought home an article he printed out about emotional intelligence. He didn’t speak much about it. He just gave it to me to read. In that gesture, I believe that it was his way of saying:
"Ahhh...I am now starting to understand you."
Prior to this moment, he tried very hard to mold me into him. He wanted me to be an engineer, like him, although I was terrible at math.
(Every night at the kitchen table, after dinner, my dad would try and teach me algebra, geometry, trigonometry or whatever that year’s torturous nightmare they would call “math.” I would cry because my dad would only explain it in one way, and he would get so frustrated that he would just do the homework for me and tell me to copy it in my own handwriting.)
So, the moment my dad brought home that article was a huge breakthrough for him and for me.
My mom, on the other hand, had always told my brother and I that she didn’t care what we did, as long as we were happy. She nurtured my artistic, creative side. We took classes on painting, drawing, pottery, piano, and for me, ballet and tap.
One of my art teachers even bought 2 of my paintings, as a kid, and I loved sitting at the piano, composing music. I wrote short stories with drawings that my teachers would praise, and I dreamt of someday dancing in the NYC Ballet, writing music like Diane Warren, or writing fiction like Charlotte Bronte, Frances Hodgson Burnett or Judy Blume.
And yet, my immigrant family instilled in me a practicality, so when I went to NYU, I studied Journalism first because it was a way I knew how to get paid to write, and it also fueled my young activist passions.
While at NYU, I did take all kinds of courses – cinema studies, documentary filmmaking, piano, ballet, and an honors creative nonfiction writing course (after a teacher recommended me). I eventually graduated with a Journalism and Fine Arts (Art History) major and a French minor.
I’ve shifted careers multiple times – first as a journalist, then as a TV producer/Digital Content Development Executive and now as an Entreprenuer/Trauma-informed Financial Wellness Master Coach/Money Mentor/Advisor/Planner.
I honor my parents and their sacrifices, while also honoring myself, my dreams, my passions and my purpose, and I want to empower you to do the same. It’s why I’m collaborating with 5 other Asian women coaches in a summit, we call The Rooted Revolution.
If you want to be part of a movement where we all can still honor our ancestral legacy, while creating the changes and the lives we want to see, then I hope you join us. Click on the photo below to sign up! It's FREE! However, if you wanted to get all of the recordings, you may upgrade. And the proceeds don't go to us. It goes to #StopAsianHate.
With Rooted Love & Gratitude,