Asian Girl Problem #134: Climbing The Creative Ladder

A few years ago I gathered some of my Asian beezies to go to an all-female Asian-American (both loosely defined) comedy showcase called Disoriented. It was everything I’d hoped for: incredibly positive vibes, and a mind-blowing range of humor. These weren’t the personas and jokes I’ve seen in the media–even in “fresh” shows like Master of None (though there’s nothing wrong with it).

Lately, in my efforts to get myself to an open mic night as soon as possible, I’ve fallen in love with one of the ladies who started and produce Disoriented, Jenny Yang. Her path to comedy is rad, from growing up a rambunctious child to burning out on her 9-5 job to taking comedy classes and ultimately producing her own show. Maybe when you grow up seeing “your people” always succeeding in a certain field, the magic is dampened. But until the market is saturated with Margaret Cho’s, imma be worshipping the few, the proud, the Asians.

In one great podcast episode, Jenny mentions how it took a leap into the unknown to quit her job and get into comedy–because that never seemed like a realistic option for Asian girls, and I can strongly relate. I had so many talented Asian friends who are now teachers, business people, or medical workers, despite winning accolades for art, music and writing throughout our childhood. Consider this: every Asian parent I know wanted their child to be a virtuoso at painting, chess, piano, what have you, but not a single one wanted their child to pursue it THAT hard, love it THAT much. Those hobbies should keep children out of drugs and sex, but once college admissions rolled around, all focus switched to earning those white collar degrees.

I don’t blame the parents. What our families lacked in creative gumption, they made up for in financial security, job stability, and sacrifice. Instead of “pursuing his passions” my dad made sure I would never have to worry about money in my life. Instead of moving us around the country or chasing his thrills, he came home at the same time every night to listen to my day, play cards, and teach me everything he knew. My mom…well, she was kind of absent, but also did her best to prioritize the family unit. It’s easy to think about our parents as yes-men who cling to the corporate ladder, and stodgy weaklings who have to eat out of the hands of their bosses while their white peers always get the promotions, but it was all for us.

And now I have the remarkable privilege of choosing whatever I want to do thanks to their persistence. I get to think about me me me all day, whereas every generation before me thought of “they” or the collective “us.” And I want to both be happy and make them proud–but it’s obvious that I can’t use their lives as a blueprint. They made all this possible, but I will not be finding role models of the creative hustle or self-employed writer in them.

What I can glean from them is their pioneering spirit, fearless resilience, and work ethic. Although the creative lifestyle might not have been nourished in us at a young age, we Asian-Americans do have badass parents who forged independent lives in a new country, and braved the loneliness, ostracism, and hard work that creative people similarly endure in their artistic struggle.

Practical or creative. Stable or wild. Is it possible to have both? I’m stuck in between values–but hey this is where I get to write from.

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