Ao Dai

I am loved by this dress.

She graces me with a special, irreplaceable variety of joy.

Her satin body runs across my skin as I adorn her.

She is kind and delicate.

She wishes to do nothing but empower.

She flows in the wind and ignores my flaws.

Her fabric is forgiving and demands very little from me.

She makes me feel beautiful, no matter what.
She is my own blood.

Who she is.

She is a part of me.

I cannot be myself without her.

Even on her bad days

I think she is beautiful.
Fashion is not my reason to love this dress.

Color is not my reason to love this dress.
It is a special occasion.

A moment to celebrate in the clothes that our ancestors wore.

A time to revel in our heritage instead of hiding it.

My sister is the reason I love this color.

My family is the reason I wear my pride.

I love this dress because I feel beautiful in it.

Chinadoll

Honest. Genuine. Happy. Extroverted.

How about Jealous?

I live my life with deeply buried feelings of insecurity burned inside me through years of bullying, and to have to mask that emotional scarring every day until I forget it’s there makes me feel disconnected from the persona I put on. Because I often feel that my social life is dissociated from my emotional being, my life actually feels ingenuine. I joke about not having friends growing up, being the least popular cousin in my family, and losing the few friends I did have, but sometimes I just want to break down and cry. And in those private moments of intense emotional agony, I cry out in my head, “Why doesn’t anyone love me?” I would physically collapse inward as if I’m a hollow Chinadoll whose bodily pieces were falling into the crevices of my being. The screaming gets so loud in my head, and my mouth would be forced open by the weight of those silent screams. But to anyone else in the house, the night is perfectly still. So these feelings of anger, frustration, and despair eat away at me on the inside without so much as an imperfection on the surface. On rare occasions, I feel this way when I see another person who is happily surrounded by friends and family (again, it rarely happens because I would also like to think I’m not constantly self-centered). When my emotions do flare up, it’s because I hear the voice in the back of my head asking me if I am as happy as the person I am comparing myself to.

And I don’t know if I can answer that question.

I have hated myself for as long as I can remember going to family parties as a young child. Time and time again these painful memories of feeling unwanted by my peers and family members who have ostracized me for one reason or another resurface. Easter egg hunts. Birthday parties. Tennis sleepovers. I was excluded from all of them. I cried when I read my sister’s school project in which she completely renounced me as her sister (I was eight). And I cried the summer after my freshman year of college because I realized that when I returned home, I had no one around me except the family members who aren’t really interested in seeing me again anyway (I was nineteen). The time between these two salient moments in my life is punctuated by many others just like them.

And I did everything I could to boost my self-esteem. I joined the tennis team and speech team in high school. I worked hard to get accepted into an elite private university. I have made many friends. I ran a half marathon. But even now, nothing can expunge this feeling of emptiness—this feeling that I am never enough, not for myself, but for the people who I care about. As I am trying to make sense of and differentiate between the insecurity of being enough for myself and being enough for someone else, I drive myself crazy. People have always told me that I only have myself to impress. That no one else’s opinion of me matters.

But to what extent can I truly accept that advice in the circumstance that I am happy with who I am but not happy with whom I’m around. The solution seems to be as simple as changing my social environment, but how can I truly forget those who share my blood? Forget that expectation of kinship and love? Forget the friendship that ended because of a misunderstanding that I desperately tried, but failed, to fix. Forget the desire to find closure from the relationships I leave behind? Forget my family when I see others with theirs? When family is the only thing I have—yet sometimes it still feels like I have nothing.

When some of the most important relationships I have had impart feelings of empty-handedness, some pathetic part of me tells me that I don’t, in fact, have any proof of my worth. That need for belonging continues to go unfulfilled, and I have dug myself into a ditch of self-consciousness that reminds me every day of my greatest fear of being unworthy of love. How far can someone go in life without feeling the love of others? Love for oneself simply cannot be enough, otherwise I would be a narcissist. But am I not a narcissist by longing for more attention from others? In which case, I feel wrongfully entitled by wishing for that unconditional love which seems to surround everyone else. To me, it comes to you the way a present arrives on Christmas, right? If you get it, you deserve it, if not then you don’t. It’s an insidious way to perceive how my world functions, I know, but it’s become so involuntary for my thoughts to stray to this because I have become chained to the affect of my past.

So when I analyze myself, I hold up a mental self-portrait. Sometimes I see what others see, but how much of it is really me? Is the reality of my outward self less material with the existence of my juxtaposing inward self? I guess I won’t know until I expose everything.

UAG

Edit:

After writing this, I realize now how these reflections as a second-generation Asian American may resonate with others who feel generational/cultural gaps within their families. I certainly attribute the thoughts of self-loathing I express in this piece to that identity, but I also realize now that condition I have lies on the extreme end of social disconnect. I feel comforted knowing that in spite the severity of my self-inflicted criticisms, people can relate to feeling conflicted around the issue of belonging. I would not have been able to understand myself better had I not written about this, and the feedback I have gotten from others has been an added benefit. Thank  you.

Romance: A Family Affair

“This time I’m gonna break out and be free/Stop needin’ what I want and start wantin’ what I need.”

—Clara C

I have learned that our romantic preferences are socially constructed, and when we ask ourselves why we like someone with a certain skin color, hair, eyes, etc. couldn’t we all find some possible, albeit obscure, answer to those questions that point to outside influences? The very meaning of beauty is socially constructed, we know that. Some years, big hips and hourglasses are hot; others, it’s Twiggy. The socializing source can be anything from societal norms to our own parents, but the growing counterculture tells us to marry whomever we love, regardless of appearance.

It’s unpopular of me to say, then, that I am purposefully selecting a partner based on physical appearance.

As I grow older, I have physically grown apart from my parents, and I have had time to rationalize the crazy things that they say and do. The weight of their survival and selflessness began to set in when I learned about the dangers of escaping Vietnam in 1975 and my parents’ journey to America as refugees. My parents may live the “American Dream” but they have never enjoyed life the way my brother, my sister, and I undeservingly have. They never go on vacations if the purpose is not to see family. They never go to fancy restaurants. They never do anything “fun.” For them, the primary purpose of their existence has always been to provide for not only us, but our family members who struggle for money either here or in Vietnam. That is why I carry this guilt on my shoulders: my existence would be nothing without the courage, sacrifice, and wellbeing of my parents. So when people tell me to live my life for myself and myself only, I think, Isn’t that selfish?

Had my parents taken that advice, they would have separated years ago; I would not have had the means to go to a prestigious university; I would never see my mom and dad in the same room again; I would lose the home I grew up in; I would become family with strangers if my parents remarried. But that didn’t happen because my parents live by a different set of values that are uncommon—unpopular, even—in America.

They chose a life that they thought was better for their children. It’s still far from perfect (and sometimes I wish they would just take a day off work without complaining about the money they would lose), but in theory, what they did was selfless.

So when I arrive at the question of who to date, I have been socialized by this guilt, but whether that is right or wrong is a question of morality. My parents set constraints to whom I can date/marry, and although it contradicts popular meanings of liberation, obliging my parents along these lines also frees me from the burden of choice. Choice is often paralyzing in this era of unlimited option, and to know that respecting my parents with a choice that makes them happy ultimately makes my life easier and is worth more to me than preserving my “God-given freedom.” Freedom may be entitled to everyone, but not every one is blessed to live in it. In fact, I should be grateful for even having the privilege of choice at all and not have my choices revoked from me simply because I was labeled by society as undesirable by my skin color, a stigma that many Black women must live with. My American lineage is but two generations old, so it’s easier for me than for others to see where I came from. Many of us, at one point or another, lose sight of that. Maybe that’s why many Millenials feel so entitled to everything.

UAG