BLOG: Why I reject Asian cultural values

By Assunta Ng

When you read that headline, you probably thought, “Is she crazy? What is she thinking?”

Within me, I embody 5,000 years of Chinese culture and wisdom. It makes no sense that I am declaring — especially in Asian American Heritage Month — that I don’t endorse Asian cultural values.

But let’s be honest, even Asian cultures have their faults. So what are the dark sides of my Chinese heritage that I distance myself from? What are the Chinese cultural values with which I identify most?

What I like about Asian cultures

I love the fact that we are hard workers. Loyalty is in our name, and we would sacrifice everything to support our family. Family is our foundation.

Humility helps us to build character to some extent.

We don’t need financial gurus like Suze Orman in the Asian community because our motto is “save, save, and save.” Americans like to spend and borrow while many of my Asian friends hate to be in debt.

According to the 2010 Census, Asian Americans have the highest income and education level compared to others. We place high priority on education. We might not spend much money on luxurious items, but we are more than willing to pay for our kids’ expensive tuition at Ivy League colleges and private schools.

Hierarchy obstructs progress

Asian culture teaches us to obey authority and elders and to respect hierarchy.

When an elder speaks, we have to not only listen, but to also accept what they say, even though they may be wrong. Only in my 50s did I muster all my courage and tell my parents that they were wrong many times.

However, my sons often tell me, “Mom, you made a mistake.”

They have liked to correct my English pronunciations and point out my ignorance toward technology and popular culture ever since they were kids. No, I don’t mind that my children seem to be smarter than me. They are my best teachers sometimes. The more they grow, the more I treat them as equals. If I said that to my mother, she would feel that I was being disrespectful.

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Japanese American Jeffrey Hattori and Chinese American Tony Au have had a strong friendship since they both worked as janitors at Seattle Keiro in the 1970s. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

“Face” ruins lives

We worry too much about what others think of us. Saving face is a big cultural burden among Asian immigrants. How many times are we afraid of doing something because of someone’s disapproval or the chance at gossip, even though we know it’s the right thing to do? Is it important to please yourself or to please everyone else?

Some Asians force themselves to buy an expensive house or accept a prestigious job because of “face.”

Getting rid of the “face” burden takes courage, but freeing yourself will be the reward.

Modesty is not the best answer

Asian culture emphasizes modesty. As a result, we shy away from promoting ourselves and speaking the truth even during critical times.

In America, you have an obligation to share your knowledge as it can save your co-workers’ time and your employer’s money. Yes, it might involve marketing yourself and even drawing attention to yourself, but, to me, sharing your skills and expertise is not bragging. Sometimes, it’s the best thing to do for yourself and your company. After all, how are you going to reach the stars if others don’t know your abilities and contributions? Do you want to break the glass ceiling? Marketing yourself at the right time and the right place is the key for Asian Americans to rise as leaders.

Quietness is your enemy

I was raised to be quiet and obedient, to not make noise or rock the boat. However, not speaking your mind is a mistake.

As publisher, I’ve learned that we have to challenge authority and injustice when it comes up.

Asking questions will change your life. You have a voice, and it’s up to you to use it. The more you use it, the more powerful it becomes.

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Kelly and Jay Kwon, a mixed Chinese-American and Korean-American couple, leaving the church as husband and wife. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Diversity is a gift

Had I not come to America, I would probably be a racist. My family instilled in me lots of good values, but also instilled were prejudices toward Blacks and other Asian ethnic groups because of what my family had gone through during the Sino-Japanese War. In their minds, all Japanese people are the same.

As community leader Jerry Lee said, “That’s 60 years ago, and those Japanese are dead.”

America has transformed me to be receptive toward new ideas and cultures. I am grateful that I have shared some beautiful friendships with Japanese Americans and other people of color. They have opened my mind and my heart.

To show my commitment toward diversity, I have started diversity machines through the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation. We give out scholarships to whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, and other students based on their work on diversity.

The other diversity project is the Women of Color Empowered lunch series. We bring the most diverse group of women together to learn, share, and support each other. It’s only in America that I could initiate programs like these.

Don’t forget, diversity is a gift.

Failure moves us forward

Failure is hard to accept in Asian cultures. Failure makes individuals feel guilty and shameful.

I have seen divorced women treated as outcasts in China even though their husbands were at fault. Making little money is also considered a failure in Asian cultures, and unhappy young people suffer more than they need to because they believe that they’re completely at fault. If you commit a crime, you would never get a second chance in Asia.

But America believes in redemption. Millions of dollars have been spent to help teenage parents go back to school to get their GED. Former drug addicts and gang members are given a second chance to make a difference in society. They go out and speak to youth, helping them keep their lives on track.

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Community volunteers Bob Santos and Jen Phang and SCIDpda community supporter Gary Matsudaira at the ID Spring Roll in April. Phang volunteered to chair the event, donating much of her time to the event. (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

Giving back

My biggest disagreement with Asian cultural values is the belief that family should be the only ones we take care of. Each of us has a responsibility toward our community, our city, our state, and our country.

We should extend our generosity to people who don’t have the same last name.

That is what I admire about Americans who always offer help to strangers. After the Haiti earthquake, thousands of Americans went to the island to help rebuild. I have known many white Americans, including Bill Gates through his foundation, who have gone to Africa to develop clean water, work to eradicate polio, malaria, and other diseases, and to improve agricultural systems using their own time, money, and talents.

American culture preaches philanthropy and generosity. Asian Americans are slow to grasp the importance of giving back and embracing charitable causes.

Being both Asian and American has given me a little bit of liberty. It has shown me the freedom I have to be who I am, to choose what I believe, and to live the life I want. Without fear, I celebrate my ability to reject and keep the better of the two worlds. (end)

To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit www.seattlechinesepost.com.

4 Responses to “BLOG: Why I reject Asian cultural values”

  1. Hi,
    I really like your wedding culture….
    I would like to say its really nice to see….
    I have share your wedding culture to my family members….

    Cultural magazine

  2. un-selfhate says:

    Ok firstly, you are generalizing ‘Asian Culture’ too much. Secondly you demonstrate self hate.

    If I didn’t know any better than you, I might have assumed your interpretation of “Asian culture” is correct but many of the things mentioned isn’t true but your misconception.

    But don’t feel bad, many other Asian Americans also makes this mistake. This is why they reject themselves and disassociate themselves with their people culturally, spiritually, racial in all aspects of their relationship.

    The mistake here is made when they judge their own native culture through a ‘white liberal’ perspective. Not in the sense that they are wrong for being liberal but their ignorance and application of western idea on ethnic minorities is particularly damaging.

    The ‘White liberal perspective’ see ethnic culture as inferior, let’s just say if you have this perspective, you were never meant to see any good in your heritage nor understand it.

    In your mentioned areas, you’ve also applied the values incorrectly into the wrong situations.

    The prejudices you have mentioned are not necessarily part of the culture but taught by the parents from themselves.

    The cultural exchange is lost in translation, and since this failed you will reject yourself racially and culturally.

    There is only one way around it so you won’t commit self genocide.

    …..Know your people and culture better.

  3. Travin Keith says:

    Great blog post Assunta!

    You are indeed quite brave to post something like this. As a half-Chinese, it’s still very uncomfortable for me to explain to people I meet why I reject certain Asian cultural values, especially to other Asians.

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  1. [...] BLOG: Why I reject Asian cultural values Within me, I embody 5,000 years of Chinese culture and wisdom. It makes no sense that I am declaring — especially in Asian American Heritage Month — that I don't endorse Asian cultural values. But let's be honest, even Asian cultures have their faults. Read more on Northwest Asian Weekly [...]


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