Unlearning. AAPI Month 2022.
Last summer, I hit a milestone: my 72-year-old dad said to me, “Tiffany, I don’t see you as Chinese anymore.”
Before you ask if I’m ok, you need to know that he didn’t mean it as a negative thing and that I understood it for what it was: a sincere observation. (For the record, I’m still Chinese — at the very least, in appearance! — and I do still embrace the collectivist values and richness of Chinese and Taiwanese culture.)
What he was saying is that I communicate, behave, and emote in ways that are distinctly different to his own upbringing. My undergraduate and graduate education at Stanford, experience living abroad, and decade of therapy collectively mean that, from his perspective, I’ve grown beyond the cultural value set he and my mother modeled to me the first 18 years of my life.
His next sentence was, “I see you as American.”
I’ve been a voracious reader and learner my whole life. My mother tells stories of me as child, how I would read books and, midway through the book, pause and excitedly recap to her the plot, characters and a summary of what I’d learned.
Yet as an adult, while I’ve continued to aggressively learn (going back to business school, completing a certification on conflict mediation, and currently taking an improv class!), I’ve found I’ve had to unlearn behaviors from my childhood upbringing, some of which are cultural.
I’ve had to unlearn family patterns around conflict avoidance and instead, lean into conflict and learn to set boundaries.
I’ve had to unlearn distrusting or suppressing my emotions and learn to embrace emotions as data.
I’ve had to unlearn indirect communication and denying my wants, and learn how to express and own my thoughts, needs and wants.
I’ve had to unlearn being harder on myself than anyone else and learn to love myself and speak kindly to myself.
My dad isn’t exactly right. I’m not sure the above learnings are distinctly American. But they do reflect the best of what I’ve learned from the fields of communication, psychology, & management.
Last year, I wrote a series of reflections, Dis.Continuity, on the tension of being Asian and American. This year, for AAPI Heritage Month, I’ll be publishing a second series of essays on Unlearning, sharing how I’ve changed as a person.