Why Are You Here? by Kristine Brown

Please list, in detail, the reason(s) why you are seeking services from ________

psychological and counseling services. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to

assess your needs and begin a treatment plan that best serves you:

“You’re a very angry person. I hope you find peace.”

The recommendation to seek help for my rage hasn’t been issued by just one person.

In 2013, I graduated college. I didn’t join a sorority, nor did I study abroad. Simply, I didn’t have the resources to, and already felt so out of place. Kind of funny, considering much of my time preening before mirrors and giggling over Instant Messages transpired just thirty minutes away. Forty-five with traffic.

In other instances I’d refer to 2009 through 2013 as “college.” At times, I understand why older friends who found their success in pragmatic entrepreneurship would snicker as I gushed about an essay I did well on, or a test I tackled. “So what? Doesn’t everyone at this age, in this day?”

To a large degree yes, to a large degree no.

Some teachers I’ve befriended, over coffee, barstools, and discussions over yesterday’s headlines, may be aware of the conveyor belt mentality. As many degrees as possible, within that four-year frame. Four years and a semester, instead of four? Unacceptable.

Perhaps too much was shared with me those past four years. And while it’s best to let it go, I can’t stop thinking about this.

When more than one former professor and classmate tells you about so-and-so student who can’t find a job, and you’re asked if there are openings at your place, I mean, would you feel odd? Kind of insulted? Maybe it’s just me. After all, the individuals concerned laughed in that crowd. “You’re too dumb for the law schools you’re applying to. You shouldn’t be considering schools like that.” “Okay,” I said, proceeding to apply nonetheless.

But regardless of my acceptances, I didn’t go.

I didn’t feel I deserved to go.

“It’s crazy to me that you were able to get a job on a livable wage, months after graduating college, and here are my classmates from graduate school, with 4.0s, and yet they’re looking for adequate work. Why? How? Is that fair?”

I shouldn’t have mentioned I was no longer waitressing the night I caught up with a so-called friend.

When asked about why I feel that I don’t deserve the things I have, I try to explain my remorse in terms of personal accomplishments. I know generational entitlement is a topic heatedly discussed, but I witnessed it, in politically correct forms. A program for this group, and a program for that. Despite all my witnessing and experiences from childhood to independence, I was the privileged princess. If anything, what I did was at the prodding of a domineering mother. I, a soulless robot, knew no hardship.

I clearly recall several lectures in non-related courses touching upon the flawless Asian. The dancer without passion, the writer without a creative thought. “These are the ones you have to beat,” a professor boomed, his yardstick pointed at the class in condemnation. “The Asians. They have it out for you.”

While I’ve read plenty and gleaned inspiration from online bloggers sharing similar experiences, writing flash pieces specifically about my experience as a Southeast Asian was kind of a step towards “getting over” my longstanding issues of cultural confusion and admittedly, ethnic self-loathing.

I have a Caucasian last name. My father is Caucasian. My father was also in the military. While the country is different in Full Metal Jacket, that notorious scene and laughable catchphrase are relevant to my conception. On that part, I won’t elaborate further. But when I think of college, I remember the following:

– Classes dumbed down to where most people knew, towards the end, that just showing up gave you an “A.”

– Being brought into offices because I apparently wrote good research papers, only to be mistaken for another ethnicity and in one instance, was asked if my mother owned a buffet restaurant, and if I worked there. I left feeling the professor implied it wasn’t right that I, not belonging to the targeted group of the research program concerned, was enrolled in college. It’s kind of like that “they’re stealing our jobs” talk when relatives get mad about immigration. In actuality, a Bachelor’s degree was antithetical to my mother’s wants. I remember the day she expressed her displeasure in explaining to her boss why I wouldn’t be working at the franchised gas station full time, even if my mother’s position got me the job in lieu of an interview.

– Finally expressing my senior year of college, in hopes that I’d get the proper advice, that I was interested in applying to prestigious law schools, only to be told that “it wouldn’t be fair to your peers.” At this point, I’m not exactly sure of the nature of fairness. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily an applicant with grandiose expectations, but I suppose just taking a shot was anathema enough.

– The woman who asked me if I was Japanese when interviewing me for a clerical position. I later learned that even for a federal work-study job, her asking was illegal. Prior, I was offended solely because she supplemented her query with comments on my eyes and pixie haircut. “Your eyes suggest you’re part Japanese.” A declaration, perhaps?

– The same woman, exclaiming, “I didn’t know you were in the Honors Program,” when I mentioned to a peer a book I was reading for class. “Doesn’t the G.I. Bill pay for your school?” To my knowledge, nothing mandates a parent to allocate his military benefits toward a child’s educational costs. My father chose to continue his own school, telling me I should work for my own.

I possibly have bored and annoyed you already. Never did I mention to professors and classmates my father was in the military. Just, that “Caucasian” last name. “Are you adopted?” “Well, no.”

(I am not disparaging anyone who is a military dependent, and has education funded through a parent’s G.I. Bill. I mention it to illustrate how blatantly stereotypical some statements and perceptions were about myself in an environment that I believe should have been primarily focused on merit).

My family, they operate a bit differently, as did the families who lived nearby. The city, it’s family-oriented. On your own when you turn eighteen? What, did you sleep around? I mean, seriously, What did you do? Nothing is all I can say. It was protocol. And as for “You’re Filipina. Family first.” Well, for some families, I’m sure that’s priority. In mine, things were different. It was difficult enough, explaining how angry my mother was when a mandatory presentation for a research fellowship conflicted with a last-minute request to drive her to the pharmacy. “Doesn’t your mother value education? She’s Asian, isn’t she?”

In high school, I remember being told, “You aren’t one of us. You don’t make the grades, and your parents don’t seem to push you to get into good schools.” The same was said in college. In both exchanges, the messenger was an East Asian. It was then that I grew aware of the divides between East, Southeast, and South Asians, and the debate among fellow Filipinos as to whether they were “Asians” or “Pacific Islanders.”

Interestingly, I was told by the president of our Filipino Student Association that I “did not look Filipino” enough to be a member. It was funny, to note how many other Filipinos got Facebook invites to FSA festivities, while I did not get a single notification.

So a short while ago, there was an episode at work where someone asked me what my ethnicity was. I think the person was genuinely curious, and once again I was trying to be believably social. So I told him, and one of the older women loudly said, “Oh, well that explains everything! We were talking about you the other day. Thought you had an eating disorder.”

Really, what do you say to that? And really, is she forty-three?

And while I may be Asian, “petite,” and “perfect,” think of the movie Gran Torino. Yes, different Asian group. But what you see in that movie very much describes the outcome of other kids of the same ethnicity (often mixed. Caucasian fathers. Both military and non-military) within my immediate periphery. Graduating high school without getting pregnant was apparently an achievement. By the time I was twenty-one, a handful of these girls my age already had their second child. While I’m not disparaging young motherhood, it’s worrisome when parents actively ask for money to pay for their grandchild’s diapers. It’s worrisome to hear of this-and-that’s kid who lost his scholarship due to shoplifting. It’s worrisome to hear of twenty-five year-olds, still living with their parents, dropping out of community college and dazzled with that white Audi mom gave them just to brag at church. At eighteen, I was told that as law dictates, I was on my own, and responsible for myself. Still, I do not see the anomaly in this. It had always been protocol.

This was my experience. Perfection, is it not?

And no, while my mother may have communicated this, as doctors and nurses did tell me what she disclosed as her occupation, she is not a nurse. My father is not a physician. My parents did not support my going to college, though my mother continued to tell her coworkers (some who were classmates of mine in high school) that the only reason why she was working when really, she should be enjoying the “wealth of your husband’s retirement”, was that she was paying for me to go to this private, Catholic university in full.

My parents did not pay a dime. And I’m sure a good handful of people, both Southeast Asian and non-Southeast Asian, didn’t have family pay for their tuition either.

(Not that I’m disparaging those whose parents did fund their education).

I haven’t visited my “hometown” in two years. Throughout college, I was happy just to visit and stand at the checkout line without my former high school classmate reporting my total and asking me if I felt bad about my mother working so hard to pay for my supposedly fancy pants college. This happened at the home improvement store. The bookstore. Wal-Mart.

I’m trying to let it go, and stake my claims on confidence, but this is quite difficult. Writing, about pretty much anything, has recently helped. I’m not as explosive as I used to be. You could also say quitting my job where I was continually ridiculed because of my alma mater helped too. At my current job, your tenure is determined by how hard you work, and how well you work. No one talks about my school being a fallback, and I’m working towards accepting the praise I receive.

Yes, professor. I am Asian. But no, my parents did not promise death or a scalding if I didn’t get into Harvard College. They did, however, feel somehow ashamed because I wanted to pursue what I thought was right, something that for some reason, we couldn’t see eye to eye on. For a cluster of families, that thing may concern the question of what a child majors in. For my family, the issue was my attending college altogether.

So, if this were written on a big paper square, eventually folded into a crane, how big would the bird be? And if I were to crumple it, would I have a basketball?

Tossing it in the trash. It’s probably the best thing. Though writing remains feasible, and recollection bleeds. At this point, the crane is mine, to chuck away or refine at the creases. No matter the salience of ignorance, the off-the-wall presumptions, and the fact that I’ve chipped yet another tooth from clenching my jaw in annoyance, what to do with the crane, inevitably and irrevocably, is a choice only I could make.

Help me make the best choice.

 

 

 

 

When not at her day job, Kristine Brown works as a freelance writer and editor. She frequently tends to her hobby of making hand painted coasters. Some of her writing has been featured in Journal of Asian Politics and History, Sanglap: Journal of Literary and Cultural Inquiry, In-flight Literary Magazine, Dulcet Quarterly, and Thought Catalog. She regularly writes poetry, flash stories, and essays at her blog, Crumpled Paper Cranes