Friday, May 20, 2011

The Taming of the Chinese Chick: Part 1. . .Blog Day #24

Today's blogpost will explain a lot.

I've decided to let you in on the backstory.  In two parts.

I am going to tell you about me. (unfortunately, my favorite subject.)

In Christian-ese, it's called a "testimony".  A long run-down on what has made me the person I am today.

I wish it was more exciting, like in the fun Christian historical novels I read.  I'd love to say that it was full of excitement, danger, romance, and happily-ever-afters where I am the heroine.  But, that kind of story rarely happens in real life.  Certainly, it didn't happen to me.

But I sure searched for it. . .And in all the wrong places.

I've mentioned in a previous blogpost that my childhood was spent in loneliness and a strong desire to live a "normal" life.  In a way, it was normal.  I was living in the Central Valley under the roof of immigrant parents who worked day in and day out on a dusty unforgiving farm.  But instead of being Mexicans, who usually have a huge sense of community and culture to share with each other, or those well-established families with lots of cute animals and fancy tractors and beautiful orchards, we were some of the only Chinese people in town and the only family with houses full of chickens.  Thousands of chickens.  Laying thousands of eggs.  Every single day. 

Every so often, my parents would meet with other Chinese people from other towns who also had chickens.  Thousands of chickens.  Laying thousands of eggs.  Every single day.  My sister and I called these little association parties "chicken meetings."  I remember there being quite a few of them.  My mother disagrees.  But that's what I remember.

Not a terribly exciting early life.  Non-the-less, these were my humble beginnings.

Quite miserable for everyone.

My mom grew up in Taiwan.  Her father died of cancer when she was a young teen and left my grandmother to take care of 7 children, of which my mom was the monkey in the middle.  My grandparents were an arranged marriage.  From what I gathered, my grandmother was beyond unhappy.  I've heard stories of a suicide attempt and a son who died in toddler-hood.  But it's hard for anyone to talk about so I'm not privy on all the facts.  I can conclude:  it was miserable. 

My mom grew up, finished school and got a job teaching.  Then she moved to the States.  From tropical Taiwan to freezing Alaska.  Do I need to explain?

And then she moved to California after a not-so-much-fun time in the Arctic and met my dad.

My dad was born in Vietnam during the time the Communists were taking over China.  My grandmother had relocated to escape all the turmoil.  That's my understanding, anyway.  (His family doesn't talk much, either).  But I do know that my grandfather had two families: my dad with his 1 sister and 4 younger brothers and then another wife and children.  I don't know all the details, but you can imagine that my dad had a poor role model.  Combined with the political unrest and difficult family circumstances, you could say, "Miserable."

At any rate, my dad was raised in Canton surrounded by Red Guards.  He swam across the channel between Canton and Hong Kong as a young man to escape the Communists and came to the US as a refugee.  He lived in Arizona with some friends, then came to California where he worked for my mom's oldest sister.  So he met my mom.

They married in 1978.  I was born later that year.  Two years later, they bought and moved to the chicken farm in the little town of Ceres.  My one and only sister was born shortly after.

Thus began the miserable years.  Not because my sister was born, but because of the hardness of their backgrounds and the harshness of egg farming.  There were no warm exchanges, no affirming words, no play-dates, no reassuring smiles for little girls.  Just survival.  And practicing piano.  Because every good Asian chick knows how to play the piano.

My dad checked out, my mom did the best she could.  But, all in all, miserable.

Now move the focus onto a free-spirited, determined and stubborn little girl.  That was me.  In every way, I didn't fit the mold in any aspect of my life.  Within my family, my aunts would give me a hard time because my hair was brown and not black.  I had a tan from swimming and working outside in the heat and my aunts would say I looked like a Mexican.  And they weren't complementing me.  I was not necessarily rebellious yet, but in much of Chinese culture, outspokenness = rebellious.

At school I was the only Chinese girl.  I didn't have a large English vocabulary since my first language was Mandarin until the age of 5.  I had shoes that were too big and clothes from Kmart (oh the torture!) and I didn't participate in any extra activities besides band and piano.  But I was blessed to have wonderful, solid friends who I celebrated birthdays with and who kept me out of trouble during recess.

That is, until the 6th grade.  The school district changed their busing boundaries.  So I had to switch schools, despite my begging and pleading for my mom to sign the transfer form and drive me to school.

Free-spirited + Strong-willed + No warm father figure + Wanting a "normal" family + bitter at switching schools + soft-spoken teacher teaching 6th graders for the 1st time + tween girl making wrong friend choices + a mother trying to maintain control of said tween girl but not understanding the culture
= Miserable.

My mom was miserable.  My dad was miserable.  I was miserable.  I didn't even know what was going on with my younger sister because I was soo caught up in how unfair life was. I lashed out.  Mostly on that poor teacher.  I concentrated all my energy on becoming my own person, making my own decisions, hanging out with whoever I wanted.  I flirted with boys and made my "crushes" lists and got A's on all my schoolwork so my teacher could never ding me too badly for chewing gum on purpose...

I'm cringing just to think of the beginnings of my down fall.  And cringing more to have to move on to Jr. High and High School.

Forget absent dad.  I just compensated by seeking out boy attention.  And my mom had some health issues that made her moods a little crazy.  So I pushed back and became even more determined to have what I wanted and be my own person. I refused to let my free spirit be tied down.

In the midst of this terrible transition into teen-hood,  I decided I was done going to church with some neighbors.  I was only going there for the cute boys anyway. "Jesus doesn't apply to my life, anyway."

And as if junior high and high school aren't tumultuous enough, I had my eyes set out on college, high school electives and doing whatever would make me happy.  Most of my wants were innocent, even beneficial.  But my mom, being of another culture, protested and said no to almost everything.

Jazz Band after school? "No."  I did it anyway.
Swim team? "No. We have a swimming pool in the backyard."  I did it anyway.  Even paid out of my own money to get the physical at the doctor.  I may or may not have forged my dad's signature on the release forms.
Need glasses? "No. You're faking." Um, made the appointment myself.  I may have even paid for it.
Movies? "No, we have a TV.  Be home at 9." Well, the movie started at 7:30.  I went anyway and got home when I got home.
Yearbook? "No. Why do you need that?" I ordered yearbooks with my own money after not having one freshmen year and feeling like a dufus.
Car? "No, we can't afford it." I begged and begged my dad until he bought me one.  Yes, he bought my first choice. . .My mom was soooo mad.
Prom? "What's that? No."  Uh, I went anyway, sophomore year, at the invitation from my senior boyfriend.
Dating? "No.  Focus on school."  I don't even want to go there.  Let's just say my girls are not going to be like I was.  And my sons will not date girls like the teen-aged me.
Class ring? "No. You pay for it."  I did.
Graduation robes? "No."  Just kidding.  Those were bought for me.

Strong-willed teen vs. Angry and at-rope's-end mom = Bad news.  Miserable.

I want to say, delicately, that while I was mouthy and rude and disrespectful at home, the boundaries were attempted to be set by physical means and emotional insults.  Most of the time, these were issued simultaneously and right when I walked in the door or woke up on a free Saturday morning.  The more that was lashed onto me, the more I clung to my pursuit of happiness. I ran to all the wrong places, sought to fill my worth bucket in all the wrong faucets, thought myself stronger and more capable than I was and rarely sought help through the right channels.

Now put in an older boyfriend, in college.  And boys just starting to actually notice me.  And me thinking I was all growed up.

I had a shoulder problem and hives all over my back the entire spring season of my senior year.  I denied that I was stressed and was determined to stand on my own two feet without anyone's help.  Colleges were applied for, financial aid secured, and finally, a college picked out.  I would follow that older boy to UCDavis.  And I couldn't get out of town fast enough.

At 17 years of age, I moved into the dorms and started my shaky college career at UCDavis as a biology major.  I had high hopes.  New life, new friends, new school.  I had big plans.  I was going to live my life to the fullest, have fun, do school, graduate, go to medical school and be a pediatrician.

Little did I know, I was at the peak of my downfall.  I had placed myself on a slippery precipice.  And I wouldn't be able to save myself when I lost my balance.

I thought I was flying a free spirit, following my own dreams and whims.  But really, I was flailing and out of control.

To be continued in Blog Day #25.

6 comments:

Ashley said...

Reading this makes me realize how little I got to know you in Davis.
Am anxiously awaiting part two.

Bronwyn said...

eagerly awaiting the 2nd installment!

Whitney Isetta said...

Jia-Min,
I just want to say a couple of things. #1.. You were NEVER "the only Chinese girl" to me. I never saw you as a Chinese girl because you were just a great friend and your race didn't ever occur to me. That being said, I'm sorry if that means that I overlooked so much of the struggle you faced everyday. A struggle that you somehow managed to never make apparent to those of us that were 'close' to you. I'm sorry that you had such a hard time in jr. high and high school and I hope that you consider our friendship as one of the few things that weren't leading you down the wrong path, or a bad decision. I truly cherished many many many of the times we shared and the stories we still have.I love the fact that we are still friends and have been for so long.
#2 I am proud of who you are and what you have become in spite of your upbringing. You should be proud of yourself as well. Although I never knew the whole story, or got the whole picture, I knew you had a lot going on growing up, yet you always seemed so positive. You forged ahead and gave yourself opportunities that you otherwise wouldn't have had. I think that now, later in life, you are able to truly take the many positive things in your life and your personaility and allow them shine through becuase of the many hardships you endured. Your 'normal' :) mothering skills, amazing sense of family, and strong faith scream forth from this blog in a way that says only one thing to me: SUCCESS!
Congratulations on everything that you are. The road to get where you are may have been a rocky one, but it forms the very core of the amazingly successful person you are today. For that I am proud to be a tiny part of your life and can't wait to hear more.

Whitney Isetta said...

sorry.. that was longer than intended.

Kim Anderson said...

Totally, never the "only Chineese girl" to me, but hey, we had chickens, too ... thousands of them! And I remember one of your birthday parties. I don't remember thinking you were miserable ... you must have been good at hiding it. Though I think elementary kids who are capable of (and choose to) think of somebody other than themselves are few and far between. And in high school, like Whitney said, I remember you being very positive and upbeat. You had to be to make all that happen for yourself! It's a little sand to think that I didn't know you were miserable all those years. I'm glad you're happy now!

mrsrosendale said...

Kim, your family was the "base" that I set all my standards to. From the time you still had curly pigtails and had that red dot on your nose, your family was so warm and welcoming and I soo wanted to be a part of something like that. Plus you had a huge trampoline. And I forgot about your chickens, haha! Whenever you saw me it was at school or at birthday parties. I was usually happy to be out of the house. Plus we had some good times :) I guess compartmentalizing has been something I've always been able to do. When I was with friends, I didnt think about anything else. When I moved to Walter White I missed my twin friends the most.

And then meeting you Whit, was awesome
I remember feeling special that you would pick me as a friend. I think I shared one day with Susan about home, but she was having a rough time herself. You were a constant presence, keeping me from doing lots of bad things that girls can do. You were a big reason I never sought out drugs or eating disorders and such. Weird to think that so many unspoken things can go on but yet a friendship can last so long. But it was close friends like you and Kim and Kathy that showed me life could be more and better. I guess I never shared because you guys were more home and family to me than my real home.

Thanks you two for the encouraging words. I got a little twinge in my heart reading your messages. Whenever I think about God protecting me and being with me when I didn't know, you were definetly used to light the path. And I love saying that I have lifelong friends.