AAPI Heritage Month #13

May 13, 2023

Did or do you ever keep secrets from your close elders?

Secret-keeping from elders is a long-held tradition for any young person, and hit some next levels with children of Asian immigrants. In fact, young AAPI folks keeping secrets from the elders in their lives is part of the trope–I dare say, racist stereotype–of AAPI people. I see and experienced this stereotype particularly regarding AAPI girls. That we were sheltered from the world by our over-bearing “Tiger Moms,” and this is why we need white American friends who can bring us into the real world.

Me in my fancy dress and heavy bangs era, circa 2006
(aka 21 years old and knowing little about life).

In reflecting on this question I want to push beyond the limited areas we see in the media: booze, drugs, and sex. Don’t get it twisted, there have been many secrets regarding booze, drugs, and sex that I’ve kept from my Asian Indian elders. Many of these secrets definitely involved white American friends and were absolutely messy situations. The heart conditions I have likely developed from being so terrified that they’d expose me.

Inevitably there came a time when I wanted to remove the walls of secrecy, particularly with my Amma. We had endured and found joy through so much pain, it felt unnecessary to keep hiding parts of myself. Admittedly, I had entered my 30s when I finally decided to share more of my life with her. I had taken off extra time from work to support her in recovering from a surgery. Last I spent this much time with her had been years before, when I was a completely different person. I had learned a lot about myself since then, and I wanted her to know more.

Even deeper, determining that I needed to share my truth with her helped me to learn more about myself and my internalized shame. Now in my late 30s I have come to realize that I needed to be a messy college kid turned even messier 20-something. Those experiences have shaped me, as has the work to move through the shame. Sure, my mom is not necessarily happy about the decisions I have made, but she does not love me any less and at least now she knows me better.

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