"A common narrative shared among my first and second generation Asian American friends is finding the balance between self-fulfillment and fulfilling our family’s expectations."
One of the most transformative periods of my educational career would have to be my junior year in high school. I had perfect attendance, straight A’s - except for one B - (thanks a lot, French: Level 2!), and I also made a ton of films.
Every chance I had I would exploit my assignments by persuading my teachers to allow me to create a video. I would turn an essay into a video essay or a research project into a video research project, etc.
I didn’t have a clear or coherent vision of what my life’s “big picture” was going to look like just yet to declare filmmaking as something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but I knew I was good at it.
However, the cold pragmatic methodology of my family kept swirling and searing into the back of my mind leaving me feeling guilty for not actively seeking to find something “practical” to do with my life. I wanted to make them proud, but it didn’t feel right buying into their premeditated formula for success without experimenting with my own first. To appease their wishes anyway, I took a supplemental “Health Careers” course and shadowed my big cousin who was a Pharmacist. Just to entertain the idea of medicine for referential purposes.
It was literally one meeting that somehow was spun and interpreted by my family as, “Ben, you’re going to be a Pharmacist now. Don’t fail us.”
Since I was raised by a village filled with a plethora of voices trying to contribute and influence my every move, I felt as though I was being pulled in multiple conflicting directions. The biggest disappointment of all was that I had forgotten what it was like to listen to my own voice.
With all the noise occurring in the background, I never gave up on making films. For my U.S. History final, I hand wrote a twenty page script, bought my first digital camera, rounded up all of my friends and shot an overly-ambitious (and wildly self-indulgent) action war drama incorporating an amalgamation of all the elements I absorbed through Mr. Alper’s U.S. History class about the 1960s Vietnam War era.
It was extremely long. It was filled to the brim with outrageous gun fights and historically inaccurate aesthetics. It made absolutely no sense, but Mr. Alper walked away impressed with the energy and effort that I had spent putting into the project. He said he admired the creativity and dedication. Heck, some of my friends just wrote half-hearted essays the night before and we all got the same grade. But none of that mattered to me. What was important was from that moment on, I knew this was more than just a hobby.
It was something that I needed to do.
To this day, I still get asked, “When are you going back to Pharmacy school?” No matter how much I have accomplished, no matter how many people have told me they appreciated my work; me quitting my first term of Pharmacy school to pursue my passions was not what they had envisioned for me. I used to be resentful about the criticisms and the judgement. It used to keep me up at night, but I've made peace with it. I now understand the root of the conflict. My family, they're war refugees who came to this country with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the lint in their pockets. They value safety and stability over everything else. What may be interpreted by others as “materialism” such as the desire to own a home, a car, etc. actually represents peace for them.
Why wouldn’t they think that way? They have every right to! For what they had to go through in order to live freely without persecution, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to take any more risks in their lives as they have already taken the ultimate one: leaving behind what they’ve known their entire lives and jumping into the strange abyss that is the unknown…for a small sliver of hope.
I completely understand. That’s why I no longer hold a grudge. This is bigger than me and that is why my current work is so reflective of their experience. I have come to better understand myself by better understanding them. The only way I would have failed them is if I never took any risks at all. I owe them to actualize my full potential and to put myself out there in order to inspire others with similar backgrounds to take the same shots as well. I think that’s special, it’s necessary, and I thank my family for providing me with the opportunity to do so. Because at the end of the day, our community has so much to offer in terms of art, education, history, politics, etc.
We can't all be doctors.
So when they nag me about, “When are you going back to Pharmacy school?” or “When are you going to settle down and start a family”, I know that it’s coming from a place of love. We may not share the same process or the same dreams, but we all want to reach the same level of catharsis and comfort. That feeling of knowing the members of our family will be okay at the end of it all.
If you’re reading this and you’re still concerned about me, I want you to know that I’m more than okay.
I am complete.