Every month, I pamper myself with a manicure, pedicure and brow wax. I’ve gotten my nails done with the owner, Anna, for so long and just a few months go, she purchased a new shop. It’s been 8 months since her business opened and I know from experience that her success, her quick popularity, is largely due to her outstanding customer service. I witness so many people, I being one of them, agreeing to come back a few hours later because her shop is always so busy. While everyone in her team is fabulous, I see her rarely taking a break, just to ensure her customers leave happy. She’s certainly a very admirable woman. Last weekend, I went into the shop forgetting that it was Mother’s Day weekend – I’m sure you can imagine how busy it was. But I find a room full of women rather entertaining; specially since I’m quite the chatterbox.
Indecisively, I sorted through the new Shellac colors as I waited for my turn. To my left, an older woman was making small talk as Anna was applying the last layer of polish over her acrylics. Since it was Mother’s Day weekend, the subject of children came up. The conversation between Anna and the woman went a little something like this:
Woman: “How old is your son?”
Anna: “He’s 3 – I know, I’m 38 and had him at such an old age.”
Woman: “There’s nothing wrong with that. Look at you running a good business.”
I forgot to mention, Anna is Vietnamese and the woman, Caucasian. As much as I appreciated the woman’s kind words, in my head, I knew she’d never understand why Anna said what she said. While she’s respectively successful with her business, she reiterated her “failure” in producing a child at a young age – an expectation in many Asian families.
I grew up in a very traditional Filipino home. It came complete with a routine of attending church every Sunday, living in a house full of aunts and uncles, and eating foods such as oxtails braised in a peanut sauce, served over white rice.
Most people would assume the family I described is close and tight-knitted. Well, if you’ve ever watched Full House in the 90’s, to compare, my family is the opposite. Yes, they wanted/want me to do well in life, but in their way. Now, please do not perceive this post as me being ungrateful for the blessings I have – but aside from what I described above, growing up in a Filipino household included growing up with years of immeasurable pressure. I hate to state the truth, but the reality behind a lot of Filipino families is that they are so prideful in maintaining a strong image of a “close family,” when in reality, behind closed doors, they contradict that image. Affection is very rare and instead of encouraging children to evolve into their own person, they expect them to live life how they planned it for them. This doesn’t account for all Filipino families, but for most.
Growing up in a strict household was one thing, but growing up as the only girl entailed to do well in school, earn a college degree with honors – preferably nursing – and remain living with the parents to help with bills. That is, until I get married and have children of my own. Sometimes I can still hear the faint voice of my grandmother saying in my ear, “Don’t ever leave your family. It is your responsibility as the girl to take care of your parents until you have your own family.”
I was talking to my coworker recently. She too is Filipino, in her mid twenties, and took the path less traveled by. I’m sure there are people of other ethnicities whose upbringings and expectations are carbon copies of mine. In a way, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one, but that doesn’t erase all the memories of trying accomplish expectations.
Though I graduated with a B.A. from an admirable University, it wasn’t a degree in nursing. My creative nature pulled me away from that path during the second year of college. With that said, it certainly was a long journey for me to be able to walk across that commencement stage. 7 whole years to be exact. While I know my parents are proud of me, I still sense resentment for not becoming a nurse. It’s a feeling that’ll haunt me – hopefully NOT the rest of my life. But hey, I’m the first in my family to graduate college. I assure you, I’m 100% proud of myself.
After graduation, I was eager to find a job pertaining to my degree. What’s interesting is during the last few months of college, I knew I wouldn’t get my dream job right away. Actually, I’m still trying to figure out what my dream job is. Nevertheless, I reacted to that perception so negatively when I was, or am now, living it. What’s ironic is I work in Healthcare Business/Operations – my mom is now suggesting I take courses in medicine – “You can go back to school to get an MA certificate or go back to do nursing.” I don’t think she understands the concept of “moving up” in a company. In the long run, I hope these other opportunities will be in some sorts of Marketing/PR/Communications. However, it’s hard maintaining my confidence in reaching those goals because I lack support.
I find that support I thirst for will only be quenched through supporting myself – I’ve grown accustom to being “independent,” and honestly, that scares me a little. It scares me in such a way that I often decline help from others – I like to be in control and when I’m not, I stress. This independence and control I have always caused, and still causes a noise in the relationship I have with my parents. I say this because I’m an individual who has opinions of my own that I’m not afraid to state. Growing up, when my opinions posed as a challenge to my parents, I was always prepared to receive the silent treatment for a few days. When we finally spoke to each other, we never discussed the issue, we just pretended it never occurred. There was never any closure with conflicts. Horrible right? I didn’t think so growing up because it was the “norm;” but I was a Communication major in college. I spent a few years critically analyzing the meaning behind text, communicating through writing, media and design. Let’s just say, it’s interesting I chose a major that allowed me to form my own ideas, opinions and conclusions; because growing up, I was always scared to. I was scared to open my mouth if my opinion differed from my family’s – specially my dad.
Which brings me to my next point. In the Philippines a majority of families still live through a hierarchy – the father as the head of the household, while the wife and children are expected to be submissive to his ideas, opinions and decisions. In the U.S., we are taught to express ourselves and form our own ideas, opinions and decisions. How do we, as children of a minority group, live a life in a “free” country when we are not even “free” in our own families? How do we live up to our prearranged expectations while we desperately reach for our own happiness? I can only dream that someday we find a balance.
In February, I decided to move out of my parents’ for good. Mind you, I just turned 26. My parents did not reciprocate to the news very well. In fact, my dad cried and ignored me the day I moved out, didn’t speak to me for three weeks and didn’t step foot into my apartment until after a month. I know this was due to my decline for his help the day I moved out. You see, Filipino parents always want to feel needed. However, if I had accepted, I know he would’ve dictated the moving process – something I did not want to deal with that day. Eventually, my dad came around. I’m happy I’m living out of the house, but I still feel the side of guilt that comes along with my dad’s cooking whenever I visit them. It’s been 3 months, but why is it that I feel so… Guilty? Like I did something wrong; something just out of the “norm.” It really gets me thinking – it’s because I’m a black sheep in my own family and a minority within my culture.
I was born in the Philippines but my family and I moved to Seattle when I was only 2. The first day of Kindergarten, I got a sense of how culturally diverse the United States is. As a child, I didn’t think much of it – I was/am lucky to live in a city that’s a melting pot of different ethnicities. As I got older, I learned that the U.S. was/is still progressing from segregation – racism, women’s rights, LGBT rights, etc. Thinking about it today, in some way, shape or form; we’re all still a “minority.” Never did it occur to me how much people can pose as minorities in their own groups. This generates pressure from the expectations planned for them and creates a never-ending battle with trying to please everyone else but themselves.
Since moving out, I often ponder at how my life was before finally venturing out on my own. I realized how I always use put others before myself. While I know this is a good trait to have, it’s also why I didn’t feel whole living at home. I cared so much about making others happy when I lacked my own happiness. I put myself in the bottom of a steep hill to climb because I didn’t want anyone else in my family to struggle. I tried to abide by the expectations because I didn’t want to be a disgrace to my family. I did not want to be thought of as a failure when looking at life through my parents’ eyes. It’s safe to say that now, though it’s been only 3 months on my own (well, with a roommate), I’m happier and more confident than ever. Now I look at life with the glass half full – my entire life, I looked at it half empty.
I still am not 100% happy with my job, but I have a job. One day, I know I’ll have a career I love. I’m not 100% happy with my living situation, but I have a roof over my head where I can do whatever the hell I want. I’m not 100% happy with how many friends I’ve cut out of my life, but I’m blessed to have a few close friends who I can actually rely on. The point I’m trying to make is that life is so short – why keep worrying about things that will not matter in the end? Why complain about the things you have when another person may have it worse than you? Why “plan” things in life such as the perfect career, where you’ll be living and what kind of person you’ll marry when plans often take a turn towards the opposite direction? Why live a life trying to satisfy a person’s expectations other than your own? Why not live, breath and just enjoy the moment because tomorrow may be your last?
In the light of it all, I’ll never be embarrassed of my heritage or family – it’s what keeps us all uniquely beautiful. But decisions I make in life now, I make based on what I feel is the best decision for myself – not because it is what is expected of me. While the “expectations” in my life conducted a difficult journey, it certainly trained me to successfully overcome whatever life throws at me. It’s helped me find a balance in mastering the art of overcoming not just expectations of my heritage and family, but expectations of my own. And for that I’m forever grateful.
If you don’t expect anything, in the end you can’t be disappointed of the outcome – that’s just the beauty of it all :).