I started writing this blog on my 25th birthday with a lighter topic of the younger- versus older-adult mindset. This week though has left my mind fixated on a much bigger conversation: increasing clamor on the unequal privilege in this world. This personal essay ended as a hybrid of whimsical introspection and earnest call to action. You can meet me in the middle.
Having turned 25 this week (and reaching what I consider the official start of mid-twenties), I’ve been thinking about the peculiar “middleness” of this point in life. The early 20s: I was a college upperclassmen who could legally prefer a shot of vodka over a glass of wine; later, a fresh graduate who would choose drinking kombucha over liquor in all scenarios and had started my first, then second, full-time job. Parallel to gaining more workplace knowledge, early-twenties me seemed to grow more independent in decision-making. That’s not to say, though, that I was scot-free from collegiate influence: at my first-ever office desk I had lined the ledge with empty bottles of GT’s kombucha the same way, in hindsight, a college student would show off with Smirnoff handles. So my late-twenties prediction: I’ll still be microstepping towards a maturer version of myself but likely more significantly. I’d have, after all, a handful more years of life experience beyond a school context; also, I think chats on romance and female hormones will have evolved somewhat — e.g. less mentions of dating mishaps and period cravings; more of the latest engagement and pregnancy announcements or at least acknowledging our peaking fertility.
At the crossroads of the roaring early- versus late-twenties, I’ve felt a social stigma of leaning too much in either direction. So you think you can [still] dance…flailing your arms to the beat of top-40 club remixes and then reconvening at so and so’s living room for collective heel & ear drum recovery? The majority response would be “Don’t bring the party home”. (This phrase is credited to anecdotally 90% of Craigslist posts by mid-twenty-year-olds seeking Bay Area housemates.) On the opposite end, American society often questions: So you think you can find [true] love? A fitting pop culture reference would be “Why the Bachelor May Go for An ‘Aged Up’ Cast after Peter Weber’s Season”. This is one of many articles opining that twenty-something-year-olds aren’t emotionally ready for the concept of marriage even with a national audience quite literally watching their every move.
Now to quote a thirty-year-old who has navigated her 20s and most of her life under society’s microscope, “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate” no matter which way we turn… so, now what? My short answer is to live a life socially distanced (the CDC recommends a minimum of 6 feet) from societal opinion, because I believe it’s very possible to maintain a youthful spirit in the midst of accumulating life responsibilities. The long answer is that this isn’t the first — or last — time facing a life dichotomy, feeling pulled in two directions; and so I’ll approach my mid-twenties the same way I’ve found peace living mid-income, -culture, and -personality:
Being Middle Class
Throughout my upbringing, my family relied on neither EBT nor food stamps. My dad works two (one full-time, one part-time) weekday jobs while my mom is stay-at-home; so we’ve been a solid one-and-a-half-ish income household in a public school district, not what’s considered lower class. When it came time for college applications, my sister and I both qualified for significant financial aid and need-based scholarships so our FAFSA forms reflected my family was also not what’s considered upper class. Process of elimination or simply looking at the suburban sprawl that is my hometown would reach the same conclusion: I grew up in the middle of the middle class. Going to elementary classmates’ homes for play dates and birthday parties, I encountered an interesting range of home sizes — the larger homes weren’t in actually gated communities but had fancy sign entrances declaring the name of the housing development you were driving into; the smaller homes were spaced more densely with lower ceilings and older kitchen appliances. To this day I don’t think much about home square footage (except that it’s an either ridiculous or reasonable amount of surface area to vacuum), but I think it can at least partly reflect the income and lifestyle of the people inside. My childhood home is an average size, and yet I used to be especially self-conscious about my bedroom.
I wasn’t bothered by the baby wall decor that’s unchanged since my parents moved in nearly three decades ago; and I wasn’t ashamed of the Build-a-Bear empire that my sister and I grew (in fact I thought very fondly of our stuffed animal collection). I was embarrassed because I knew of only a few classmates who shared a room and no classmates who shared a bed with their sibling the way I did. Specifically, we had a full-sized Mattress Firm over which I claimed the half against the wall and my sister the half bordering the nightstand. By middle school, I was inviting friends over less and less and I think this stemmed partly from a subconscious fear of my friends’ judgement. The adjacent room that could have been the house’s third bedroom was what we called the study room, where I got most of my school work done (and played computer games like JumpStart Typing and Carmen Sandiego). I needed some years to disperse the lingering cloud of embarrassment but ultimately walked out being so thankful. I embrace the room setups as one way my parents weaved their values — e.g. keep close ties with family and education is empowerment — into the quality of life they had the means to provide.
While debt isn’t a hardship I’ve faced and money is also not an abundance, my sense of stability comes from good luck, better access to education/job opportunities, and the best support from family/community.
At age 25 and onward, I’ll continue to squash the fear of others’ opinions and to refocus on thoughts more worthwhile — like money as a means to vote instead of a delineator of rich and poor. I’m grateful to live under a steady roof with a salaried job and I’ll continue donating to and supporting causes worth fighting. They include:
Being Asian American
As a first-generation daughter of two Asian immigrants, I’ve learned to balance Eastern and Western culture. One example is that feather dusters are simply cleaning supplies through American eyes; but, to an Asian disciplinarian, holding the fluffy part and brandishing the plastic handle towards someone is an ad hoc weapon to “dah pei gu” (translation: to smack the butt). Beauty standards, as another example, are very conflicting. The West glamorizes tanned, visually sun-kissed skin while the East is so pro-smooth and pale skin that bleaching cream is not uncommon. Asian rhinoplasties trend to softer, rounder noses while Caucasian ones are sharper, narrower. Asian lips thinner and American lips fuller.
My commitment to natural beauty means a hard pass on harsh chemicals and plastic surgery, so my quick-to-tan olive skin is “more American”, nose is “more Asian”, and eyes and lips a peculiar in-between. I think at some point in 5th grade (based on the evolution of my school pictures) I thought my lips looked too plump. Showing more teeth and gum, I got in the habit of smiling with my lips curled inward. This action has since become second nature to me — to the disgruntlement of my mom, I don’t and can’t really smile any other way anymore.
And so I exist as a blended byproduct of two countries’ cultures and featured looks but not distinctly either. For instance a middle school teacher once, unprompted, asked if I was Native American while giving me feedback on a writing assignment (why she asked me this I still don’t know); or, the last time I visited relatives in Hong Kong, a waitress mistook me to be my po po’s non-Chinese domestic worker rather than her biological granddaughter. These surmises on what is my racial background don’t personally offend me, but I know that they could have led to discriminatory treatment as has happened in intolerable past and current events.
Aside from appearances, I span two languages (…et cetera if you include seven enthusiastic years of Latin studies). I consider writing one of my academic strengths and yet I’m illiterate in Chinese; consequently I at times feel so special to be bilingual but also so weak when I recognize only basic characters like 大小一二三 as an ABC (American Born Chinese) and communicate with my extended family in much more basic sentences than I would in English.
Despite illiteracy, I regularly practice my Cantonese listening and speaking as it remains one of the key ties to my ancestral homeland. I’m thus doubly pained when I can understand the news reports and cries of protestors in the United States and Hong Kong alike. They reflect turmoil and anger in the two parts of the world that I know best. Doesn’t matter what city, location, or hemisphere is under discussion — I’m like Sandra Bullock and the other pageant contestants in Miss Congeniality when I say that the one most important thing our society needs is WORLD PEACE.
At age 25 and onward, I’ll continue to view race and ethnicity as simply sources of different perspectives but still equal strength; and I will continue quoting rom-coms to make a political statement.
I consider myself an ambivert, which is the middle ground of introversion and extroversion. Alternatively, if you believe in horoscopes, I am a Gemini. Quarantining in a pandemic has confirmed this self-assessment because sometimes I crave high socializing and in-person interaction, while other times I want nothing more than to recharge with days completely alone — and a solo bedroom dance party to Beyoncé’s and One Direction’s greatest hits. Fluctuating between a tacit and outspoken person, I know that my voice is the common thread no matter how I choose to express it. Whether through writing, speaking, or reflecting, I want to connect with others; to hear others and be heard.
At age 25 and onward, I’ll continue to speak up for what I believe in and what is right. I will continue to live my life, amplifying the softer voices or voices unheard; be aware of when to take a seat and listen; be accountable for my actions and the lives or spirits they impact. Through your phone or computer screen, I hope my voice is loud and clear when I say Black Lives Matter.
In my mid-20s, should I be a party animal? Should I be in a committed relationship? Should I be poorer or richer, more Asian or American, more solitaire or Monopoly? I’m ignoring the personality quiz results and posing no more “should I”’s. For I am me, you are you, and that is enough. Every life is enough; hair, fur, scales, skin, shells — they’re just nature’s colors.