Chapter 4: On Mom, The Librarian

August 16, 2009


I don’t really remember much from the rest of my early elementary school experience.  There really wasn’t much worth remembering I guess.  Life leapt from unremarkable event to unremarkable event.  It’s funny how every little thing seemed of the utmost importance as a child.  After I leapt over the language barrier, it was much easier for me to make friends.  Participating in after-school activities like Cub Scouts and Little League helped speed along the process of course.

By this time, my family had comfortably settled in our own home.  We weren’t relegated to crowdedly coexisting with our relatives, my dad had found a decent job and my mom was working as a waitress at my uncle’s local Chinese restaurant (go figure).  The hours were long and she was always home late so eventually she decided to find another job – one where she could work from home so she could look after my brother and I while we grew up.

In elementary school, my mom decided to take some time off during the workday to volunteer a couple hours at the school library, clearly the good suburbanite housewife thing to do.  Oh how exciting it was to see my mom outside of her element.  It wasn’t an easy thing for her to do. My home wasn’t exactly the type of home that the cool kids flocked to.  I rarely had any toys.  Just a flaccid Styrofoam-stuffed ninja turtle that we all took turns pummeling in a set rotation.  The only reason some of my friends came over was because my house always had the most up-to-date computer technology because my mom had started a job as a computer programmer and her company always regularly upgraded her computer hardware.  This only meant we could always play the latest computer games at my house.

The one instance I do remember of one of my good friends coming over ended up a disaster.  My friend Peter and I were just horsing around, as boys often do, and since I’m Asian and obviously born skilled at the martial arts, we decided to have ourselves a little sparring session.  I don’t know how things escalated.  Who played dirty first?  Who was running their mouth?  But I do clearly remember losing my temper, balling up my small left fist and popping my friend as hard as I could just below his chin in the Adam’s apple.  Bad idea.  He instinctively wrapped his hands around his throat, his face contorted in pain as he struggled to breath in and out, in and out to no avail.  Terror was written all over his features, his eyes tearing and his movements more frantic.  His face was turning purple, his freckles less and less prominent as color rushed to his normally pasty white complexion.  He was alternating between gagging and gasping and all I could do was stand there frozen in fear, gawking uneasily.  After what seemed like the longest thirty seconds of my life, my friend was finally able to draw a full, life giving breathe.  Afterward, Peter sat hunched over, visibly shaken.  I was relieved.  How could I have done something so awful to my friend?  I didn’t really want to hurt him.  He’d always been nice to me.  Sure, friends have their disagreements sometimes, but is it worth engaging in this gratuitous violence and reactionary hatred?  He isn’t so different from me.  We’re all human – our lives equally as precious and deserving of that next breathe.

So my mom’s volunteer work at the library was really that significant.  It was her own stand in a society that found her and her kind alien.  Her broken English, her quirky Oriental way of thought – all of that separated her, but she was still willing to attempt to lay her differences aside and challenge herself, all for the sake of her sons.  Instead of just being the courteous waitress that served you at the local Chinese restaurant, my mom became the Asian librarian that everybody knew to be my mom – just a little bit out of place, but still able to hang with the best of them.

Preface: My Work in Progress Memoir

March 7, 2009

I’ve decided to pick up an old project that I’d left gathering dust in my miscellaneous documents folder for about two years now.  It was a memoir project that I put together for a combo-final for two of my classes at the time (Spring semester, 2007) and was the most fun I’d ever had putting together a final project in all of my scholastic career.  I’m going to polish each episode, add and subtract from each and hope that you, the readers, will find the experience enjoyable.  Hopefully you guys comment on each episode, help me expand and contract at necessary points and give me a focus and introduce ideas for new chapters when I’ve run out of the material that I’ve already written.  This’ll be fun, at least for me.  There’s nothing more fun than putting intimate details of my life on the interweb as general knowledge!  Okay, let’s get into it.


I dedicate this to my parents and my brother (who are as much a part of this assignment as I am), to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre pierced because of misdirected hatred, to Professors Tongson and Yamashita, whose classes I enjoyed the most the whole of my collegiate career and have learned so much from, and to my friends, y’all know who you are (circa 2007)


I guess this is where I write about what this piece is all about, what my influences are and what it is, exactly, that I hope to accomplish in my attempt at writing it.  I wonder if real authors write this before or after the actual writing of their book/novel/poem etc.  To be brutally honest, I’m only attempting this because I have two classes in my last semester at the University of Southern California (ENGL-478 and AMST-449) that have given me the leeway to creatively develop my own final project, and I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone.  Both projects have to have a textual equivalent of at least ten pages, so we’ll see how long this thing ends up.  ENGL-478 is an English class that centers around the spatial construction known as the suburb, something I feel I have experienced intimately all of my life, and AMST-449 is a class on Asian-American literature based out of the Los Angeles area, something that I feel I have greatly expanded my knowledge in after having taken that class and now have the authority to develop my own response to.

I’ve lived in a realm of stereotypes all of my life.  My ethnic forwardness that just comes from the look I’ve inherited from my Taiwanese immigrant parents has cordoned me off into an imaginary corner sometimes, but its something that I’ve always dealt with and have easily come to terms with.  Life isn’t fair for the minority (model or not), regardless of whatever country or enclave you choose to live in.  With the recent massacre of thirty-two people at Virginia Tech on April 16th, 2007 a mere two days in the past, I can only wonder what the cultural backlash for such a tragic act will be.  Cho Seung-Hui, from all “the facts” that have arisen so far in the news, was a very disturbed young man.  The scary thing is that this malicious killer, on first glance, isn’t all that different from me.  A loner at times, male, Asian-American (he came to America when he was still young and impressionable, so I consider him to be at least from the 1.5 generation – I mean, most FOB immigrants here in America for overseas studies don’t end up studying English), twenty-something, and an English major.  So am I being profiled now?  Am I an unstable, emotional wreck mere moments away from lashing out in an uncontrollable rage against all that is rich, White and representative of all that had unfairly limited my life in America thus far?  I know I’m not, but as a person who has lived with the weight of stereotypes on me my entire life, I can only wonder what baggage this ordeal will add to my identity as an Asian American male.

This is my attempt to reconcile my experiences growing up as an Asian American in suburbia with that of others like me out there.  I know there are others like me out there, but from what I’ve read so far, no literature has been written from this perspective.  Maybe this is just the beginning of a longer work, but I feel there is a place for this writing, and I also feel that in the process of writing this, I’ll find my own niche in this vast and immeasurable patchwork known as literature, and be able to show the world that not all twenty-something, Asian-American, male English majors are dark, sadistic and impulsive in their demeanor and writing (like Cho Seung-Hui), but there is reason to hope and learn from the inequality of living in America for the sake of others like us, stuck in the same position, feeling like there is nowhere to turn – as idealistic as that sounds.