“So many things to unlearn.” – The Other Me
In honor of the release of Mulan, I felt it fitting to talk about the Asian culture and how I had to unlearn many things that come with it.
UNLEARN CULTURAL HONOR
When it comes to Asian culture, there are a lot of expectations placed on the children. Our actions can either bring honor or shame to our families. For this reason when it comes to dating and getting married, our families voice many of their opinions whether good or bad.
In the song, Honor To Us All, it says:
“A girl can bring her family
Great honor in one way
By striking a good match
And this could be the day”
It infers that a woman’s way to honor her family is to come home with a “perfect” man. This is confirmed in the verse that says:
“We all must serve our Emperor
Who guards us from the Huns
A man by bearing arms
A girl by bearing sons”
Though, this was written about the Han Dynasty, also known as the Golden Age (206 BC – 220 AD), in many ways Asian culture is the same today. In Asia, men go to work while the wives are at home caring for the children. It’s starting to change a bit and more women are putting off starting a family because the want a career. However, in my time in Asia, most of the women I met were homemakers.
There’s nothing wrong with being a homemaker, but there’s still a lot of pressure on the women to bear an heir to carry on their husband’s family name.
My family is often pressuring me to get married and have kids. My future husband is to be financially well off, but young enough to have kids. He shouldn’t be a divorcee and he shouldn’t enter the relationship with kids of his own. Why? Because, if I marry him, this is not the definition of what a perfect family looks like.
I’ve had to unlearn this ideal. If I didn’t, I would have never met lover. He doesn’t fit the requirements of what I’m expected to marry. But he’s kind and gentle, he makes me feel loved, and I love him. Being with him would not be out of cultural honor, but out of love.
There are two versions of the song Reflection and both versions have lyrics that are fitting for this.
The Lea Solonga version says:
“Look at me
I will never pass for a perfect bride
Or a perfect daughter
Can it be I’m not meant to play this part
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart”
I’m often hiding who I really am from my family and friends. There’s a lot of shame in not saving my virtue for marriage as is the fact that I let people on the internet see my naked body. If my family knew I wasn’t a virgin or if they knew I posted photos of myself, it would break their hearts as I’m not that perfect daughter. I will never be that blemish free bride because I am not a “virtuous” woman. My virginity was taken by a Tinder date while watching Californication so I’ll never be able to give that first time to my future husband.
Shame is such a big part of the Asian culture and we are taught to internalize our addictions. Growing up, we are shamed publicly when we mess up or don’t live up to expectations. Asian culture is one very much so focused on success so not doing well on tests were often broadcasted. It was a way of shaming us to do better. Yet, our achievements never received any praise.
If life was like that as kid, my even bigger “screw ups” as an adult would be even more shameful. Asian parents gossip like no other. “Did you hear the Lu’s daughter got pregnant before she got married?” “Oh I heard that the Yamashita boy got a divorce.” “But the Kims weren’t able to stop their daughter from sinning with the girl she shared a dorm with.”
I have to unlearn shame in order to live the way that I do.
The Christina Aguilera version of Reflection is longer and many points also show flaws in the Asian culture.
“Now I see
If I wear a mask
I can fool the world
But I cannot fool my heart”
I’ve learned to wear a mask. Even on here, my identity is not revealed. Everyone believes me to be the pristine and innocent little Asian girl, but inside of me lives a darkness. I’m not talking about secretly being part of some satanic cult, but there’s a lot of pain that I hold inside of me. There’s a lot of things that many in vanilla life would chastise me for so I hide.
“I am now
In a world where I
Have to hide my heart
And what I believe in
I will show the world
What’s inside my heart
And be loved for who I am”
I hide my heart and stay silent about my beliefs. “Asian women are supposed to be quiet and do as they’re told.” Those were the exact words of a man on a dating site. “But here you are refusing to submit to me and obey. How could I stumble on the worst Asian girl possible?” I guess in way, yes, we are taught to quietly do what we’re told. When I would get hurt as I kid, I was told to be quiet and not to make a scene.
I guess that taught me hide my beliefs. But when I met Sir, he allowed for me to show the world who I was with my words. I didn’t have to hide what I believed and I was accepted as I was or so I thought.
“Why must we all conceal
What we think, how we feel?
Must there be a secret me
I’m forced to hide?
I won’t pretend that I’m
Someone else for all time
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?”
And now, I feel ashamed that I cannot contain my sadness. Many Asians don’t seek counseling because mental health issues are shameful in Asian culture. I walk around pretending to smile, but I’m truly hurting inside. I’ve considered getting help, but professional mental health is not advisable in the Asian community. So I hide how I feel.
It’s something I should unlearn because I shouldn’t have to hide how I feel or who I really am.
Image from Unsplash