Practice your TEEL paragraphs:
Relationships define who we are
Topic sentence: If parents set unrealistic expectations and wield excessive control, children often develop psychological problems. (Expand/Explain) In Vanessa Wood’s case, her mother refused to listen to her pleas to become a writer, and wanted her to fulfil her dream of becoming a doctor. The mother aggressively compares Vanessa with their cousin and considers her a failure and a disappointment. (Examples: Evidence: how this affects Vanessa) As a result, Vanessa loses her respect for her mother and becomes extremely resentful. Out of spite and desperation, Vanessa resorts to anti-social behaviour, such as feigning sick in the toilet and stealing other children’s lunches. She resents the fact that she is poverty-stricken, but more than this she resents her mother’s “emotional terrorism” and her “two-faced” comments that deride and humiliate her. She refuses to pay the ultimate price for her mother’s failed marriage and personal sacrifice. (Link) Vanessa’s turmoil shows the problems of excessive parental control and the lack of personal freedom.
For many parents, especially mothers, in Growing Up Asian, it is extremely difficult to be “oneself” because of the pull of one’s cultural roots and the emphasis on “saving face”. Vanessa Wood’s mother becomes trapped in an unhappy marriage because she is unable to admit defeat and disappointment. The father’s Australian family is discriminatory, and refers to the mother as a “chongalewy-chow shiela” and she becomes the “dutiful wife” who “slits her wrists in shame” after the divorce. She is constantly imprisoned by cultural customs and after her marriage she transfers her anger and shame onto her children, almost destroying a happy relationship with them.
CONFLICT can lead to problems for personal growth
Vanessa Woods : “Perfect Chinese Children”
Topic sentence: If parental expectations are unrealistic, this can lead to a soul-destroying relationship between parents and children as well as psychological disturbance. (Evidence/ examples) In Vanessa Wood’s case, her mother refused to listen to her pleas to become a writer, and wanted her to fulfil her dream of becoming a doctor, like her cousin. The mother channels her frustration towards her children, whom she aggressively compares with their cousin. However, such expectations set Vanessa up for failure; she loses her trust and respect for her mother and becomes extremely resentful. Out of spite and desperation, Vanessa resorts to anti-social behaviour, such as feigning sick in the toilet and stealing other children’s lunches. She resents the fact that she is poverty-stricken, but more than this she resents her mother’s “emotional terrorism” and her “two-faced” comments that deride and humiliate her. She feels that because of the focus on success and hard work, her mother fails to show any love or care. (Link) This increases Vanessa’s humiliation as she redoubles the family’s sense of shame and makes her feel even more worthless.
Diana Nguyen: “Five Ways to Disappointment your Mother”
Topic sentence: Unreasonable or excessive parental expectations can be detrimental to a child’s self esteem and dignity. (Evidence/ Examples) They can create a great deal of animosity between parents and children and strip children of their self-worth. For example Diana’s mother expects her daughter to pursue a medical career and becomes disappointed at her inability to fulfil her academic expectations. Diana portrays her as a harsh and cruel person who is never satisfied and sets the daughter up for failure, which undermines her respect for her mother. Furthermore, the mother is portrayed as selfish because she prioritises her need to ‘save face” over her daughter’s happiness. (specific examples) In fact, the mother is contemptuous of the daughter’s struggle to become an actor. Diana is wounded on several occasions by her mother’s determination to reject her desire for an acting career. When her mother walks out on her performance she is “shattered”. She recalls her humiliation and the loss of dignity as she recoils and lets the “hurt sink deeper into my soul”.
Having a sense of being different makes it difficult to belong.
What is the difference?
Race/culture: Often our physical appearance makes us stand out, and this can provide personal problems for many people, especially children and young adults/ migrants. In the 1980s, many Asian migrants were conspicuous (stood out) because of their skin colour or their appearance. Their cultural background led to cultural differences.
Why is it difficult to belong? It is difficult to belong because they are often being discriminated against and they are made to feel inferior. Many are humiliated because of their skin colour; they are treated like ‘germs” or “human turds”. Because of their cultural differences, many experience language barriers which also reinforces their difference.
Views, values, goals, expectations, interests: What is the difference? Often people or children develop different interests; they have different expectations and values from other family members or from parents. They may want to follow different career paths or goals.
Why difficult?: It becomes very difficult because the parents force them to do something that they do not want to do; they become unhappy; the parents criticize them and believe that they are ungrateful ; the parents make them feel as if they had failed; Diana was very upset when her mother left the performance.
(Sexuality and gender) Sometimes we may not fit into certain groups because of our sexual orientation or becomes of our choice of partner. Many homosexual people struggle to fit into groups because they are discriminated against. Diana conflicts with her mother because she wants to choose her own Chinese boyfriend.
Whilst such differences do make it very difficult for the individual to belong, such conflict or differences can also strengthen individuals. Sometimes we need to become stronger; we need to become more determined and we need to be sure about our values. Often individuals have to try harder and sometimes this helps them to succeed in the long-term . Vanessa and Diana do all become more determined in trying to follow their goals. Sunil takes pride in his name even though he realizes it is a myth
Although family should be a place of comfort and nurture the children’s emotional and psychological development, differences in expectations, views and values can tear families apart and leave children shell-shocked and inhibited. Many of the Asian children have different professional and personal expectations from their parents, and the parents, who have sacrificed so much to come to the new country, make them feel like ungrateful outcasts if they do not fulfil their parents’ goals.
The children don’t share the same priorities as the parents such as emphasis on public image, and many do not hanker after careers that bring wealth and status. Instead they are influenced by the freedom afforded by the new country and prioritise personal fulfillment.
- Home becomes an unbearable place, full of tension and recriminations.
- Diana Nguyen is vehemently opposed to her mother’s expectations of her gaining status, health and happiness as a lawyer or doctor.
- Likewise Vanessa woods’ mother believes that writers inevitably end up “penniless in the gutter”. The “emotional terrorism” waged by her mother makes Vanessa rebellious; out of a sense of desperation she ends up stealing children’s lunches, perhaps to gain her mother’s attention.
- When Diana is finally “kicked” out of home she is the first Asian in her group to endure such a humiliating sense of isolation and exclusion from the home base. Because she chose to live with her boyfriend she will be forever the “slut daughter” – the one who brought shame upon her mother.
Leads to pain and suffering: The children have to cope with their parents’ disappointment, disapproval and sense of rejection.
- Vanessa suffers from what she sees as her mother’s brand of “emotional terrorism” and fears coming home when she has been reprimanded at school.
- Home is full of threats, such as her aunty her wants to burn her tongue.
- Vanessa’s pain and suffering are evident when she resorts to anti-social behaviour such as stealing so as to gain her mother’s attention. This increases her humiliation as she redoubles the family’s sense of shame and makes her feel even more worthless. Leads to a loss of pride and confidence… …
Often the mothers suffer from cultural and social dislocation because of their domestic situations that also compound their difficulties. Some of them experience more difficulties than their daughters and suffer from social ostracism that makes them feel different in the new society.
- Vanessa’s mother does not want to lose face after her divorce and practices her brand of “emotional terrorism” on Vanessa so as to recover their dignity and status in the new society.
A sense of difference often occurs because of a sense of rootlessness or homelessness. This can impact upon people in very negative ways and affects their attempts to belong, to find a secure sense of place and to find fulfilment.
- The buffalo becomes a metaphor of the father’s displacement and cultural estrangement owing to the destruction of his village in Vietnam, and as the buffalo increasingly becomes exposed to danger and at risk, so too does the father disintegrate in his new culture because he is simply out of place. The buffalo’s ability to adapt to its environment is reduced in extreme temperatures; the calf is susceptible to danger during the “first two months of its life”. (35) His sense of difference is evident in the anonymity of his identity, as well as in the faceless self-portrait.
- The daughter in “Water Buffalo” introjects her father’s estrangement from his culture; his yearning for home are displaced onto his daughter this affects her ability to paint.
- (The daughter also feels estranged from her home environment because she has betrayed her father’s goals and sacrifice. She gave up a promising medical career to become a painter . “This destroyed her father.” During a fight, she made many derogatory comments such as “you’re worthless” that completely humiliated him and destroyed their relationship.) However, she feels powerless to explore her creative talent because she cannot grasp his “lost heart”. It is only when she views his final painting that depicts the water buffalo, which connects him to the land, that she can appreciate his life of heroism, his “private hopes”, his pain and dignity.
- Likewise Blossom Beeby, an adopted Korean child in a white environment, experiences a similar type of homelessness and cultural confusion because the images of whiteness which dominate her world are at odds with the Asian face she sees in the mirror. She is taught to push her “Asian-ness” to a “crevice in the back of (her) mind”.
- It is only when she frequents nightclubs with her Ghanaian friend that they find a milieu that reflects their cultural confusion. “It was a cultural hodge-podge and a comfort zone I’d never known before”. She states that this is the only place where she begins to feel comfortable about being an Asian.
- She clings to snippets about home so as to give her a sense of place; however, when she travelled home to Pusan and located the place of her illegitimate birth, she discovered that her name had been given to her arbitrarily by a social worker based on the landmarks.
Whilst differences can be soul-destroying and lead to a lonely sense of exclusion, individuals might find comfort and solace in unexpected places.
Cultural difference gives a sense of urgency to Aditi and Wei Lei’s special friendship just as it does to Simon Tong’s and Stewart’s.
Alternatively, the sense of homelessness and cultural confusion can lead to a special place to belong – a place inbetween two cultures or two worlds that may bring a host of advantages.
- Joo Inn Chew uses the symbol of the homeless waif to depict her contradictory identity in Bendigo as a half-Chinese person growing up in 7th generation Australian – farmer country. However, her difference also works in her favour as she gains a special place on stage and in the Chinese dances. She realises that her differences need not necessarily lead to a failed sense of belonging or even a sense of exclusion. She can belong in just a different way.
- Likewise Michelle Law realizes that despite her difficulties growing up in an Australian sporting environment she is nevertheless “incredibly lucky” to have been able to bridge both worlds.
Many children struggle to maintain their identity if their personalities, interests and desires clash with their parents. Often they suffer enormous pressure to sacrifice their dreams. This seems to be the typical Asian experience in Growing Up Asian. Many of the youngsters have a need to follow a creative path that is often at odds with the parent’s desire for them to follow in a professional straitjacket. The parents insist on perfect scores so that, like cousin David they will be able to pursue a medical career and emulate Dr Victor Chang, the heart surgeon. Many are told that they will end up “penniless in the attic” if they follow an artistic profession. This clash leads to a great deal of disappointment and frustration on behalf of both parents and children that creates a tense and debilitating relationship. Many of the children feel as if they have failed their parents, they feel ashamed and inadequate that they have not been able to help realize their parent’s dream of success in the new society. For example, Diana’s mother’s expectations lead to a soul-destroying moment when her mother walks out on her concert during interval. Diana hoped that her mother would see her “shine” and accept her desire to become an actor. She becomes a failure in the mother’s eyes which leads to a constant need to justify herself.
Migrants may struggle with language barriers, and this makes it very difficult for them to maintain a firm sense of identity among the group. Many of the young Asian migrants struggle with their identity in a school setting because of their language problems. Often they cannot express their desires and feelings; other times they may be misunderstood or become the butt of derision. Sometimes they feel that people are patronizing towards them and this causes them to become introverted and timid. For example, Simon Tong’s feelings of inferiority are compounded by his inability to express his thoughts in language. He is unable to defend himself in words so his reticence makes him almost invisible. “If I couldn’t express myself then who was myself”. The right words would enable him to reclaim his dignity and give him confidence. Language would allow him to assert himself and present himself in a desirable way as a suave 14-year old Don Juan who desires to woo the girls, but sadly, he struggles to maintain his identity among his peers at school.
When people move to new communities, cultural differences often force them to re-evaluate who they are and how they should fit in to the new group. During the 1980s, many Asian migrants felt exposed in Australia because they felt culturally and racially different. They were often made to feel inferior by their school peers. For example, before he came to Australia Simon Tong had never seen a white person before, and when he finds himself in the playground among freckled boys and those with caterpillar-like eyebrows he finds the experience confronting, demeaning and painful. Because he is so conspicuous he is treated like an “animal in the zoo” and the playmates ridicule him. He cannot defend himself and starts to feel inadequate and defenceless.
Some migrants like Simon suffer an identity crisis because they cannot articulate their feelings or defend themselves. He is humiliated because he feels that he is always the butt of derision. However, he negotiates his identity and reclaims his dignity by mastering the English language. He learns to find comfort in the prosodics of the English language which helps him to gain confidence and reclaim his dignity.
There is often a clash of views, values and expectations between parents and children that lead to a reevaluation of identity on behalf of both conflicting parties. In Growing up Asian, many parents expect that their children will follow professional pathways, so as to bring the family status and prestige. The children must therefore negotiate their identity. They must decide whether they will follow their parent’s expectations and hence suppress their own desire for fulfilment or happiness or compromise their relationship with their parents so as to pursue their own career. Those who prefer an artistic career have to battle with the feeling that they have failed their parents. To resist their parent’s pressure also demands a lot of courage and stamina. Diana Nguyen is one such person who finds it difficult to abide by her mother’s dream of a high-status occupation. She is desperate for her mother’s approval, but is shocked when her mother walks out of her performance. Likewise, Vanessa Woods wants to be a writer but the mother using her brand of “emotional terrorism” tries to convince her that she will end up “penniless in an attic”. However, these girls must find a way to build their own lives and find confidence. Diana finds solace and freedom in her relationship with her Chinese boyfriend whom the mother detests and Vanessa eventually comes to find love in the mother’s sacrifice. In the process, Diana has to realise that she will always be the “slut in her mother’s eyes”.
In their turn, parents, too, have to negotiate who they want to be in the eyes of their community and their children. Many feel that they “lose face” and this is humiliating for them. Many like Diana’s mother prefer to sacrifice the relationship with her “slut daughter” because they do not want to change their customs. To them, the public persona is much more important than the daughter’s feelings.
Communities may offer challenges to newcomers but they often provide a chance to explore one’s identity and find personal satisfaction. For example, my life in Australia is not subjected to strict rules and regulations as it was in Korea, and I can take advantage of greater freedom to be who I want to be. I feel that I am able to make choices in determining my career;
Similarly, some migrants discover, through compromise, the best of both worlds, which has a positive impact on their identity and level of personal fulfilment. Although Michelle feels different in both Australia and Hong Kong, she realizes that she has been “incredibly lucky” to have had the influence of both cultures. She realizes that she needs to cope with her painful self-consciousness and become aware that she has to deal with her self-centred perspective in whatever culture she finds herself. Likewise, Jo Anne Chew finds that the “liabilities” can also become cultural “assets”.
Families can often provide support during times of stress or difficulty and this often affects how individuals cope with conflict as they grow up. Just a hug or embrace and some reassurance can often give children a great deal of confidence. When Mr Lai’s parent’s Asian grocery store is declared bankrupt, he retains an optimistic outlook. One of his graphic images poignantly depicts how his parents comforted him and tell him “we love you”, which is unexpected but treasured because they had “never said that before”. Despite his problematic relationship with his parents, Holden finds refuge in his idyllic and sentimental relationship with his younger sister, Phoebe. She provides solace and a person to talk to, even though she does not necessarily understand him. In contrast, where children are not valued or do not feel they are understood this can lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression. Many of Asian parents did not understand their children and certainly had no empathy for their struggles at finding a voice and a new self in the new culture. This makes it so much harder for their children. As Pauline states of her father, “he had never attempted to get to know or understand his children”. To avoid her father’s tyranny, Pauline is forced to leave home for the sake of her own mental health.
Many migrants of Asian parents suffer from unrealistic expectations; they are aware that their parents have sacrificed a lot to give them opportunities, but they often feel enormous stress and pressure to satisfy their parents. Frequently, the parents’ expectations deny their own individual interests and dreams and this makes many children unhappy and dissatisfied… Pauline felt so oppressed by her father’s draconian expectations and subsequent punishment regime that she constantly felt a failure. The beatings and constant humiliation affected her confidence and self esteem in very damaging ways. She states that it was ironic that her father escaped the oppression of the communist regime in Vietnam and yet in Australia “we in turn have had to escape the tyranny of his rule to find freedom for ourselves”. Likewise, Vanessa Woods refers to her mother’s “emotional terrorism” and the fact that her mother suffered incredible financial hardship to provide better opportunities for her daughter. Vanessa was a constant failure when compared with successful relatives who achieved high professional status and wealth.
To many Asian parents, public image is more important than the child’s satisfaction. This often has very damaging repercussions for the children. Diana Nguyen’s mother compromises her relationship with her daughter because of the need to save “face”, which mortally wounds Diana. Her mother refuses to tolerate Diana’s Chinese boyfriend whom she met on the internet. Diana is so humiliated and feels like a “slut daughter”, who is forced to move out of home. She not only feels shameful but regrets never having a decent relationship with her mother…
However, as they grow up and develop their own individual identity, many Asian migrants appreciate the incredible sacrifices their parents have made, They realize such sacrifices have enriched their lives despite their trials and tribulations associated with coping in a different culture. Although Michelle feels different in both Australia and Hong Kong, she realizes that she has been “incredibly lucky” to have had the influence of both cultures. Vanessa Woods finally learns to look for “love” in unexpected places. She realizes just how much her mother has sacrificed for her, when she only keeps one chicken wing for herself. Although chicken wings are the “cheapest part of a chicken” she has nevertheless “bought all her salary can afford”.
Where individuals are supported and nurtured, this helps to create well adjusted human beings who can face the problems they are bound to encounter in life. However, where families are destructive or set unrealistic expectations then this can rebound in very negative ways on individuals.
Difference and diversity can be character-building.
Often when we attempt to assimilate into a dominant culture we are confronted with the stark reality of our differences. This makes us question our identity, and in particular our values, customs and traditions.
For example in “Anzac Day”, when James Chong participates in the Anzac Day march he imagines himself as a proud Australian. However, when he notices that he has been singled out on the current affairs program as an inappropriate “dinky di” Australian he feels isolated and alienated. He is struck by the painful realisation that he has been excluded from Australian traditions.
In “The face in the mirror”, Blossom Beeby is confronted by the differences between her experiences in Australia that have conditioned her to see herself as a “white Australian” and yet she is aware that she has suppressed her “Asian-ness”. This gives rise to feelings of inferiority and shame that lead to a “rebellion of sorts”. It propels her on a soul-searching journey, starting with mixing with multi-cultural people in clubs where she feels comfortable for the first time. She also returns to Korea to find the origins of her name and realises that she is just as dislocated and foreign in her “original” environment.
(“Five Ways to disappoint your Vietnamese mother”) Diana’s experiences as a performer at school alert her to the fact that she is not happy fulfilling her mother’s high academic expectations. Her difference is confirmed when she challenges her mother by living with her Chinese boyfriend, thus becoming the “slut” in her mother’s eyes.
Simon Tong similarly feels like an “animal in the zoo” which draws attention to his cultural inferiority and sense of shame arising because of his physical appearance. His humiliation is compounded by language barriers that affect his identity and expression of self. “If I can’t express myself that who am I”.
(“Perfect Chinese Children”) Growing up, and negotiating her identity is a painful and traumatic process for Vanessa Wood because of her relationship with her mother. Her mother has high expectations and expects Vanessa to become a doctor. However, the mother also expects that Vanessa will save her from the shame of her divorce by providing status and respect. Given such high demands, Vanessa feels a sense of desperation not only at their poverty but also at her mother’s brand of “emotional terrorism” that seeks to hold her responsible for bringing the family much-needed wealth and status. Vanessa’s pain and suffering are evident when she resorts to anti-social behaviour such as stealing children’s lunches so as to gain her mother’s attention. This increases her humiliation as she redoubles the family’s sense of shame and makes her feel even more worthless.
Anh Do – character building and insight into self through conflict
The Australian-born Vietnamese comedian, Anh Do reflects upon the most difficult act he ever did which he believes was character building. He had to perform at the RSL at a function for war veterans that was commemorating the fallen brothers in World War Two, in Korea and Vietnam.
Because of their war experiences, they discriminated against people of Asian-background. He performed a five-minute comedy gig to complete and utter deafening silence. A member of the crowd pretended to shoot him with an imaginary finger. To break the ice, he proves that he is just an “Aussie kid”. He tells footy, kiwi and farming jokes. Gradually he breaks the ice. Eventually the audience of war veterans could say that “this Vietnamese kid was just an Aussie comedian up there talking about his working-class childhood.” It was one of the most rewarding moments of his career and he even got praised. “You’re funny for a slope” is the ultimate compliment. (183)
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