By Victoria Kim
“Oi! Wake up, it’s time for school. Hello! You have to go to school today. Yah, you lazy bum, are you deaf? Get up and get ready for school right now!”
My mother was louder than any rooster in this country. She’s the reason why I refuse to buy an alarm clock. Her indecent slurs eventually wake me up. If they don’t, she makes sure to drag me by my hand and throw me onto the floor from the comfort and sanctity of my bed. She would smack me across my butt, reprimanding me for being slow and lazy, and tell me to get ready for school.
As an immigrant, my mother had a very specific motto for school and the purposes it served for me. She would never fail to remind me every day that the reason my father brought her and me to this country was for us to receive and never waste better opportunities, to be the best in this country.
“Remember, you go to school to study hard. If you study hard, you do good in SAT, and you go to good college. You go to good college and you get good job. You get good job, you get a lot of money. And if you get a lot of money, you become very happy.” That was my mom’s motto in life for me.
My mom was practically obsessed with my educational life. “Do you have a test this week? How did your friend do? Why is she doing better than you when you both get tutored? You better bring above a 90% home, or you might as well find another family! Remember to kiss up to the teacher’s ass so you will seem like a good student.” I would roll my eyes at her daily words of wisdom.
My mom seemed to believe that getting A’s was easy and perfectly attainable. Almost as if students could buy grades from their teachers, just like my mom would buy her clothes from the clearance section in Macy’s. As I would tie my sneakers bought on sale, I would say “I’m leaving!” She would come running around the corner and stuff my face with sweet curd; she believed that beginning the day with something sweet would always make it day better.
“Vicky!” my mom used to call. I looked back at her questioningly. “Remember, absolutely no boys. You’re of no age to date and flirt with guys. If you look a guy in the eye, you might fall in love with him. Oh, and if you even dare to touch a guy, you might even get pregnant!” I would slam the door on her face as I heard her saying, “Go to school safely, and stay away from the guys!”
In all the years I attended school, I would always hear my mom speaking in the background and telling me to get good grades. That didn’t prevent me from liking guys, though. Sure, she told me to stay away, but I was a woman. Given that she taught me that girls were meant to complete guys, I might as well not take her words lightly, unless she expected me to bring a girl home. I remember my first crush from elementary school. He ended up going out with my friend and coming to me for homework help. I had a crush on one of my closest friends in middle school. When I confessed, he told me that he was asexual. I stopped pursuing him after that. My second crush from eighth grade seemed perfect. as I would gaze at him longingly from afar but never got the courage to confess to him. Then, I and watched him go. Then came high school. I liked a sophomore in freshmen year and built up all the courage to confess to him, but I ended up getting rejected, as usual. I attempted to talk to him even though I got rejected, but eventually, I gave up when I realized he was unemotional. I and gave up on him and my nonexistent love life all together.
It was as if my mother had bound me to a curse on me: a curse for not attracting anybody. I remember going to the temple with her and her telling me to ask God to keep all the guys away from me. Innocently, I obeyed her. Only now do I realize the mistake I made.
Why was my mother so tough? Yes, I realize that grades are important, and I was keeping up with them. But was it wrong to let someone in your heart once in a while? Was I really going to have to live the rest of my life fangirling over Korean actors and idols and screaming Oppa from my computer screen?
I had practically convinced myself that I was visually unattractive and I wasn’t very special. Korean dramas? Psh, they were just another myth. It took me awhile to realize that scripted stories can’t necessarily become reality. I wanted to have a conversation with my mother. Why was she being such a boob block to me?
“Mom?” I asked her.
“Yes, Vicky?” she replied.
“Why am I not allowed to look at a guy as a man? I mean, you taught me that a woman and a man completed each other, just like you and baba do, so why can’t I complete anybody?”
My mom looked at me with eyes full of amusement yet horror at the same time. “Vicky, you really are too young. You don’t understand men very well.”
Was she serious? “Ma! I’m a teenager– and a high schooler at that! I think I’m mature enough to understand guys and the society!”
“No, you aren’t!” my mom burst out. “Had you been as mature as I thought you were, you wouldn’t be asking such irrational questions!”
Irrational? Why was my question irrational?
“Vicky, never let a guy get between you and your career, goals, and motives in life. Honey, I didn’t even know I was getting married until my engagement day. How ironic is that! A bride who doesn’t even know she is going to be a bride! Don’t let yourself take my place. When I married your father, I was miserable. I had to leave my job and take care of our marriage. Your father wasn’t even there for me when you were born, and then he left for nearly two years after you arrived. When I came here, I was verbally abused by this man I called my husband. I prayed so hard to God to help me save our marriage, and thankfully, she did. I was so thankful when your brother came into my life, but that meant sacrificing my job and career, which I did happily. But then while your dad left me to go earn money three days after your brother was born to go earn money. Vicky, I don’t wan’t you to go through the nightmare I have.”
I looked at her quizzically. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand how your life lecture is an answer to my question.”
My mom looked a bit hurt, but she shook it off as she took my hand. “Vicky, build yourself a stable future. Have a good career, and stand on your own two feet. Once you do, all the guys will coming running towards you, begging on their feet for your hand.”
She gave my hands a soft kiss and patted my head. “Never depend on a guy. That is the worst thing a woman can do. Once you depend on a guy, you are indebted to him. Your father tore me away from my family and career as I became bound to him, you, and your brother. That’s how much I depended on this man to help feed this family. Had I been able to study more, I would have been able to earn a lot of money. I could have married a guy of my choice rather than be forced into a marriage with a man I hated. I still regret the fact that I didn’t have any opportunities to complete my education and make myself a well respected woman.”
She looked at me again and said, “Vicky, complete your education. Have a stable career. Make a lot of money and then find a guy of your dreams. The guys you look at now are boys. They are immature. They haven’t been through anything. Have they suffered any losses or built a house with their bare hands? No. When you grow up as a successful, independent, mature, and beautiful woman, find a guy who will treat you with respect and dignity, unlike the guys who you look up to today. Those guys will treat you like any plaything. They will play with your emotions and hurt you and attempt to tear you up, which you aren’t ready for. When you grow up, find a man who has been through a lot and can respect and appreciate your presence, rather than these boys who fight over the number of girlfriends they have had in the past. But Vicky–“
“Find a guy who can love you.”
I had always thought that my mother was being a typical Asian immigrant mother. I didn’t know what she was attempting to protect me from. I didn’t know she had suffered from so much. I didn’t know she didn’t want me to live the same terror she had experienced.
My mom didn’t want me to get good grades and earn money just to marry me off to a well respected stranger. But she was giving me a chance. A chance to find a guy who would respect and love me, unlike the guys I desperately want to hook up with. Those guys would want to hurt my feelings. Even if they ended up accepting me, they would grow tired of me after a week or so and throw me away for another Barbie. Those boys, I felt indebted to them just like my mom does to my father. I would feel indebted to them for liking me, and accepting me, and acknowledging me in front of everybody, and helping me gain academic success, and most importantly “loving” me back. I would never be able to easily let them go. However, if I grew up well rounded, then I wouldn’t have to feel indebted. I would like a guy for being my equal, for not having to be supported.
That’s when I made up my mind. Dating wasn’t a First World problem for me, and neither was it supposed to be a concern for an immigrant family. It was just an extra burden. The shocked reactions of my scandalized aunts when they heard of my cousins dating weren’t my biggest concern, and neither was it my mother’s. My biggest concern was to be successful and well rounded: a woman who could stand on her own two feet with no support whatsoever. My biggest concern was to not to misunderstand my mother and to look up to her for all that she has been through, just so that I could be successful.
“You have beautiful eyes, just like your mother.” She looked a bit frightened, but strangely, her features softened. “However, your complexion is your own. Your aura and radiance are yours. Those are yours, Vicky. Don’t let anybody claim them.”
I smiled at my mother. This country bumpkin had a lot to understand and go through. This country bumpkin had many opportunities, and she was set to use them.