Great essay here by Andrew Lam, editor of New America Media and contributor to Where Are You From. In the essay, he writes about telling his parents that he’s going to study writing instead of medicine, and how America helped him find his bliss. Check it out.
My paternal grandfather’s baccalaureate took him to Bordeaux to study law, and when he returned, he married the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the Mekong Delta. And for Vietnamese in America, education is everything. So, for someone lucky enough to escape the horrors of post-war Vietnam and be handed through the hard work of his parents the opportunity to become a doctor, to say “no, thank you” was akin to Confucian sin. By refusing to fulfill my expected role within the family, I was being dishonorable. “Selfish,” more than a few relatives called me.
But part of America’s seduction is that it invites betrayal of the parochial. The old culture demands the child to obey and honor the wishes of his parents. America tells him to think for himself and look out for number one. America spurs rebellion of the individual against the communal: Follow your dream. It also demands it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I wonder if there is a difference between Asian ethnicities when it comes to how we view the arts. I remember my podcast with Hertsel, where we talked about how Chinese these days often don’t respect the arts. It looks like Andrew Lam’s family finally embraced his art. I saw a video with Ocean Vuong (not Frank Ocean, who had the misfortune of being Chris Brown’s latest victim), where he said that his parents and grandparents saw art as sacred. I don’t know if that happens as often among Chinese families. Andrew’s essay is interesting because he too addresses the culture in Vietnam around art and literature.
Anyway, if you’re an Asian American writer, go ahead: be “selfish.” Life is too short to waste on someone else’s goals. Seriously, you could get struck by a car tomorrow. Killed in one of America’s now-frequent shootings. Dead from a disease. Make the most of your life. You only get one.