Chapter 2: On Moving To The ‘Burbs

March 20, 2009

burbs

There are probably very many reasons my parents would give for uprooting our family from the southern crawl of Oklahoma to the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the East Coast, specifically to the Connecticut suburb of Westport, and I am thankful for every single one of them.  A better job market, the proximity to New York City, and filial piety all seemed to play a part, but I’m pretty sure my paternal grandmother’s presence there was the determining factor.

I flew to John F. Kennedy Airport with my mother and my toddler brother, David.  My father had decided to drive a U-Haul truck the whole distance with a family friend so we wouldn’t have to pay a moving company ourselves.  It wasn’t that hard to pull off.  My family hadn’t accumulated that much stuff at that point in our lives.  I remember arriving in Connecticut to the welcoming arms of strange relatives I’d never seen before and anxiously awaiting for my father to arrive with more familiar furniture.  For some unbeknownst reason, I remember a very palpable fear regarding his safe reunion with the rest of his family.

The only family I had known before was the Bible study group in Edmond that I had grown up a part of.  My parents may have taken me back to Taiwan when I was younger to see my maternal grandparents and other relatives, but if this had happened, it was at too young an age to have created any sort of lasting impression.

All of a sudden I was being thrust into a familial structure foreign to me.  What was the hierarchy here?  Who was the top dog?  How exactly am I related to these people?  It was quite overwhelming for a mere five year old boy.  So many new faces were presented to me at one time, but I could always take comfort in the crinkled and affectionate gaze of my grandmother.

To call Westport, Connecticut a mere suburb would be an understatement. It is not the classic image of the suburb one might get when imagining white picket fences and cookie-cutter houses, mainly because of the lingering influence of ‘old’ (or settled) nouveau riche in the area.  In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald had lived in Westport, Connecticut at one point in his career and had loosely based the classic novel, The Great Gatsby, on the life he experienced in the small town off the Long Island Sound.  Westport gained some more notoriety when Ricky and Lucy of I Love Lucy moved to Westport in their attempt to flee the rigors of city life and fall back on a lifestyle they considered to be synonymous with classic suburban living.  Residents of Westport never fail to mention that Martha Stewart, a woman that has become almost a national emblem of all things suburban, has a residence in Westport (in fact, she was placed under house arrest at this residence during that whole insider-trading fiasco in 2005) and that she’s not really all that nice of a person – an interesting insight into the repressed reality of the modern suburban existence.

Every house in Westport is different.  Different shapes, different styles, different colors, different acreage, and even different mailboxes.  The town is about history, and every house has a different and unique story.  Westport had been the point of entry for the British in their invasion of Danbury during the Revolutionary War, and to me, it always seemed like Paul Revere’s hoofbeats were still echoing in the archaic streets of Westport.  With about as rich a history as one can get in the United States, there was a lot of pride to be had in living in Westport, Connecticut. Unfortunately, such pride can only be underscored by exclusivity and internalized racism, which I would experience firsthand for myself soon enough.

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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.

dedication

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)

preface

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.