I rebelled against my strict Asian family to reach my final tatted baddie form
It’s important to note that I was loved growing up.
But being loved in an Asian household is a bit different than being loved in the average household. Traditional Asian culture is known for being strict, and tough love is valued more than emotional love.
I never understood why I could never throw my leftover food away or why I had to cover myself up and put sunblock on before I left the house even though it’s blazing hot in California. I was constantly being watched over in fear that something might happen to me or I might make some poor choices.
I’m half Vietnamese and half Cambodian. Both countries are in Southeast Asia, but they have some weird hatred towards each other, and when I tell you my birthday parties were awkward, I’m not lying. It seems like my family members from both sides of the family tried their best to avoid each other and would make subtle comments about each other’s cultures, always forgetting that I could fully hear and comprehend everything that was said.
I felt ashamed of myself for being from each culture, especially since most Asian families prefer to keep their bloodline pure. But I mean, it wasn’t my fault that my mom was the rebel and wanted to date outside of what she knew.
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My mom is my role model in every aspect of life. She is tatted up, thick, and platinum blonde. She goes clubbing in LA every night and wakes up the next morning to go to her corporate job. She went from being broke to being able to support me in New York City for college. And she’s been single since I was a toddler.
But even through all of her accomplishments, including raising me, the older generation in our family would tell her to cover up her tattoos when coming to family parties and ask why she keeps dating people who aren’t Vietnamese or doctors. I always watched her laugh in response, but I knew it hurt her to feel some disappointment from her family. It was almost like nothing she ever did was good enough as long as she wasn’t the perfect Asian woman.
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My family members would pat my head and tell me never to get any tattoos or piercings because it was “no good.” They would tell me to get good grades to make them proud. They said I couldn’t have a boyfriend because it would mess with my career. I would be forced to scrub off temporary Hello Kitty tattoos because it was inappropriate for me to have them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called “squid ink” in Vietnamese and been told to wash my face because I was too tan.
I would be “good” in their eyes if I was a star student, a future pharmacist, free of tattoos and piercings, and had as fair skin as my naturally tan skin would allow, so of course, I promised to be what my family expected me to be.
As I got older, I kept my promise of keeping near-perfect grades and taking all the nerdy AP and Honors classes available, but I began to develop my sense of style.
I liked the look of girls having tattooed sleeves, and I spent a lot of time at the beach, so I grew to love my skin being tanner and tanner. I started going to parties and dating pretty boys who would end up breaking my heart and leaving me listening to Bon Iver on repeat for two weeks straight.
My shirts and shorts got shorter, and I became more comfortable with showing my body. I got my nose pierced, and I eventually got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday with my mom right by my side.
This process of finding my style and self has been one of the most amazing experiences because I’ve grown and felt every step of the journey, but obviously not everything was perfect.
My grandma, who lives with me and was raised in Vietnam, had a meltdown when she saw my first tattoo. No, seriously: she actually banged her head against the window repeatedly while saying, “Why?” and crying.
Her perfect grandchild ruined herself by getting a tattoo. And while this seems uber dramatic (because it is), it’s expected of my family. My grandma, who was always the rebel of her family and bought flashy clothes at the market despite her mother’s wishes, was suddenly seeing parts of her mother in herself while she looked at me disappointed.
She eventually got over the drama of being devastated over my flower tattoo, so I kept sneaking more onto myself, and she really couldn’t do anything about it. I came back for winter break from New York with a septum piercing that I got on shitty St. Mark’s while I was wine drunk, and I had four more tattoos on me. I still went to school and had a job, so I’m not sure why there would be a problem with me doing as I please with my body.
And besides my tattoos, my grandma constantly wonders what tf I’m doing studying journalism in New York City when I could be closer to home, studying medicine or some shit. I always tell her the same thing, “I’m happy in New York.” My heart was never with science or math growing up; I was just good at it and got good grades because it made the people around me happy. I always wanted to write for a magazine and be bold with my appearance. I wanted to be free to do what I want.
Fast forward to today, I’m sitting in Galore’s office writing articles like this, working a new job on the weekends and having finished off my last semester with a 4.0 GPA. All while having several tattoos and odd piercings and wearing risky little tube tops and booty shorts. I post about all my newest articles and accomplishments on Facebook along with my newest tattoos and boyfriends, and every time I do, news always gets back to my grandma from other family members, and I get in trouble for it.
I FaceTime my grandma every week or so, so I asked her why she hates me having the appearance that I do so much. The answer was simple. “It’s ugly.”
“The gang members and poor people in Vietnam had tattoos and always did bad things,” my grandma says, “Do you want to be like them?”
I mean, there’s nothing wrong with gang members and poor people in my opinion because my parents have been both before they were corporate bosses, but I don’t get why having a few tattoos and not looking like the stereotypical Asian teenage girl would automatically put me in the same level as them.
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“You are a beautiful girl. I don’t know why you want to write on your body and pierce your nose like that. You look like a bull,” she says. Ouch.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Although my grandma gets on my ass about what I choose to do with myself, she loves more than anything else. Her reasoning behind her not wanting me to look like a gang banger is that I’m beautiful and don’t usually make bad choices, which I guess is a compliment.
“You need a good job. A good career. I don’t want to worry about you getting in trouble because of something stupid on your body,” she says.
I see that it’s all out of tough love. Criticize me until I see why they’re thinking what they’re thinking. For a successful future and preserved good girl reputation, I have to play it safe and look as proper as possible while doing all the right things such as working hard and being respectful of the people around me. It’s kind of hard to be an all around perfect person, but it’s what was always expected of me growing up. And I get that after risking your life to cross the ocean on a tiny boat with your whole family to escape communist Vietnam, you want your future generations to have it good without many problems. But I promise I’m all good, Grandma.