My Auntie Betty is the oldest of five siblings, specifically, four brothers. We were driving home from a memorial banquet when she blurted out an observation from the middle row seat of my Honda Odyssey. "You know how the Chinese are; boys, boys, boys."
And then she fell asleep.
This sabbatical, I'm tracing the faith development that happens in immigrant communities between mothers and daughters. I have so much to write about what my mom has taught me, the recipes my grandmother cooked, and the legacy of Chinese women in my church community. I have so much to write because I know that so much of my story is shaped by strong, brave, faithful women. At the same time, I know that each generation is not left unaffected by a socio-cultural framework that is molded by systems of patriarchy and oppression. "Boys, boys, boys" is something my sister, mom, and I still mutter to each other when we are confronted with small reminders that we are living in a system made for our husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.
Here are some examples from just the past six months:
- When Jon and I found out we were having a baby boy, multiple people said that our parents must be so glad. Like in that way where daughters are fun, but sons make sense.
- When I think about where to live in the next 5-10 years, I calculate what kind of health my parents and in-laws will have because a daughter knows someone always needs to be near home.
- My mom continues to daily care for her aging sister because a daughter knows that even after her parents are gone, she is still a daughter.
- There is an expectation that women in my family will always be present to facilitate and engage in group settings, while similar participation from male relatives is excessively applauded.
Apart from family life, I've observed from both ministry and seminary that Asian American males also have more permission, opportunity, and mentorship. In fact, while many have been largely shaped by Asian American women (as Sunday School teachers, colleagues, or supervisors), they can be quick to take credit for the sake of advancing the general Asian American voice. Articles like Nate's that give honor to influential Christian women are rare among Asian American writers.
This is where I'm torn. I long for my Chinese American brothers to thrive. I know that I am just as shaped by my grandmother's dumplings (hah! literally!) as my grandfather's egg foo young. I know that the sacrifice of my grandmothers who worked in sewing factories is paralleled by my grandfathers that worked tirelessly in school cafeterias and liquor stores. Chinese American men in my life are strong, passionate, and creative. I also know that there is a unique burden for Asian American men who are repeatedly emasculated and written off. And so I am working out how to lead as a Chinese-American woman alongside the painful struggles and unjust privileges of my Chinese-American brothers.
I am searching for a new way forward. Despite living in a "boys, boys, boys" world, somehow my Chinese American community functions in a largely matrilineal way. That is, despite the overwhelming ways males receive preference (i.e. bearing generational family names, receiving inheritance and communal approval, largely avoiding family obligations that daughters often bear), most families revolve around the oldest grandmother or great-grandmother.
I have theories! This comic actually makes me wonder if Asian women gain power within the community once they become frumpy, permed, turnips. No really, it is possible that the Asian community reserves a special place in their hierarchy for women who wear brown velour track suits and fleece beanies. Essentially, there is an expectation that Asian women will carry simultaneous duties as daughters, sisters, mothers, employees, etc. for the first 60-ish years of life. After that, she earns her Popo badge- she is seen as a family sage: wise and generous. My hope is that this generation of Asian American men might see their sisters for who they truly are today, even if they are still imperfect, ovulating, and have great skin. I long to see Asian women understood as leaders and dreamers. To be accepted when they express disappointment and limits. To be able to be as multi-faceted as we hope we can urge our Asian brothers to be. Imagine the kind of Popos we will be when our wisdom and generosity is shaped not by decades of silence, obligation, and disdain, but formed by mutual empowerment and trust.
Here's to the dreams we can offer our sons and daughters- to be known and held, celebrated and welcomed, to jointly carry on heritages of bravery and generational hope.