Wednesday, April 05, 2006
success story?

Long ramblings.

I saw the postcard above on PostSecret a few weeks ago, and it struck me as something I myself might write, though I'm not sure if it qualifies as a secret or not the many times that I've questioned myself, my career choices, and the impact it's had on my family. The past 4-5 years of this blog, I've meditated on the struggle. I'm not Korean, but I can understand those feelings ofinadequacy that one feels when they haven't lived up to their parents' expectations, no matter how many "A's" or diplomas you bring home.

I'm already way more than knee-deep into this whole graduate school / becoming a teacher thing, but there are still times when I wonder if this was the right decision to make. It's not an issue of money (yes, I know school teachers work long hours and get paid crap) or power (nobody truly controls a group of 20+ kids, you only think you do) or even an issue of respect (it won't come readily from kids, parents, or even other professionals who have a master's degree). For me, the things that I've struggled with are the issues of competency (am I actually good at teaching, or do I just think I'm good at it?), issues of calling (is this what God has called me to invest my life in?), and issues of what I call (for lack of a better term)... "Asian American provider" syndrome.


So what's with "Asian American provider" syndrome? In my brain, it's the result of the cross-hybridization of traditional Asian culture with America's immigrant roots.

In traditional, patriarchal Asian societies, the hierarchy of most families was that the father was the head of household, the bread-winner rice-winner and protector of his family. His was supposed to benevolent dictator that cared for his family, and when his eldest son assumed the role of head of the household, he was expected to care for his parents in a manner befitting their care of him. Combine this history with America's immigrant roots (where a dominant cliche has been chasing after money and financial security) and you get this result:

Whole populations of Asian Americans whose brains have been unconsciously conditioned toward all the classic Asian American stereotype careers such engineer, computer programmer, lawyer, corporate suit, research scientist, doctor, etc. These are all careers whose entry can be assured through hard work in school studies and whose salaries occupy fairly healthy spots that range from upper middle class to rich. Wealth is achieved not just for the sake of being a "success story", but having a wealthy occupation provides both a moral justification for your parents' efforts in raising you and money to take care of their needs.


Yes, I know this topic has been addressed in a lot in Asian American studies and literature, but I'm regurgitating it here for the sake of context and my own meditations. Being Chinese and American, I'm conscious that there's a sub-culture that is subtly influencing my own perceptions about becoming a teacher. My brain sometimes marinates on this thought:

If my name was Mr. G. SomeGweiloGuy instead of Mr. G. Chan, would it be possible that I would feel less guilty about making a pitiful sum of money that would leave me ill-equipped to take care of people in my family, including my mother and any (hopefully) future children?

I'm not sure if I have an answer to that question.


I sometimes think the stubborn drive that I have in me to "make it" comes from my genetics. Sure, I don't exactly what the hell it means to "make it", but all I know is that I have to do it. When my paternal great grandfather immigrated to this country three generations ago to build railroads for the whiteman, I'm sure he didn't just do it for kicks. Great Gramps was looking to get paid, because dragging himself all the way over here to "金山" wasn't just a sightseeing trip. When my maternal grandfather snuck into this country two generations ago as a "paper son", that same motivation to "make it" helped him endure over seven years of separation from the woman he loved and his children, all while working blue collar jobs and even a stint in the Army during WWII. Maybe both of them didn't end of rich, but in some way they did "make it" - raising and taking care of two families one whose end results happens to angst-ridden, wordy writer that is me.

Yet at the same time, I know that the part of me so prone to stray off the beaten path comes from my family as well. After all, if my ancestors were crazy enough to break cultural norms, choosing to leave China, and try to brave living here in America in a time when society was even more extremely oppressive and racist, than that same maverick disposition is in me as well... but that doesn't qualify me automatically as "successful" either, does it?

In fact, it actually sets the bar higher... if I actually knew exactly how success is measured anyhow...


I think in part it's the Asian Atlas syndrome.
American societal norms urges us to earn the extra buck and live as far above our needs as possible, even at the sacrifice of job satisfaction. That's ridiculous! People who criticize the value of job satisfaction are the ones who've never experienced it. I have no doubt about that claim.

Fight the power!
being a teacher has its good points. there was a poster on the subway that said what i want to now, but I can't remember. so i'll just point out the summer vacations, winter vacations, and spring breaks. woohoo! :o)

whoa,just found your site via DJ Chuang. Love your insight. keep up the good work.
i heart postsecret. i want to get the book.

re: teaching. it's the only i've ever truly enjoyed doing. it's the one thing i can never seem to give up. i have a 9-5 at the ad agency, and i still teach on weekends at the school i opened up with my siblings. they teach full time now.

grant it that we're more of test prep school than a traditional school, but i enjoy spending weekends there. though lately i've been toying with the idea of getting a M.Ed. or you know.. be officially qualified to teach at /any/ sort of school.

i know what you mean, school teachers, the pay is kinda bad. not so much in thailand, well expat teachers. they get paid in US dollars, and live on the thai standard of living. so they're making bank!

google> heh, I like your name for it better. "Atlas" brings the whole Greek mythology imagery of the titan with the world on his shoulders...

mel> thx man.

faye> yeah, but there's a lot of work in between dem vacations! heh.

david> welcome, and thx.

pip> why not teach FT? =)
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in?scrip?tion (n-skrip-shun)n.
1. The act or an instance of inscribing.
2. Something, such as the wording on a coin, medal, monument, or seal, that is inscribed.
3. A short, signed message in a book or on a photograph given as a gift.
4. The usually informal dedication of an artistic work.
5. Jeremiah 31:33

the facts.
name. Gar AKA "that Chinese guy" "Sleepy.McSleeping"
ethnicity/nationality. Chinese/American, 4th gen.
location. Sea-Town, WA, USA Kawanishi, JAPAN
occupation. less-cynical poor grad student
age. younger than you think, older than you know



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