[Hand-Out] Introduction: Filial Piety

Brushes with Poverty

Grandpa Dinosaur

filial piety
Introduction: Filial Piety

“How’s the depression treating you guys,” I put my elbow on the table and strike a manly pose. I find I’ve been striking manly poses a lot. Acting like things are okay when they’re not.

Right now things are pretty terrible in my house. Both my parents are laid off. They essentially like children again. Adult children. Who are your parents.

I’ve been talking to a friend who I will refer to as Chika. Before I continue my story, I feel like I should introduce Chika as she will probably appear in a future article.

Chika is a Chinese friend of mine. There are two people who I have taken into my household at no charge, Davita Cuttita was the second. Chika was the first.

Chika and I are close because of that. How could we not be? One day in grade eleven I pressed my elbow on the table and invited her to live in my house: no charge, for as long as she had to. If I hadn’t, she would have to repeat grade eleven due to her transferring to a new school and the complications regarding such. We talk often about Asian families, traditions and Whiteness.

Both Chika and I are in the same situation, her mother fell ill to cancer and she had to delay her education to help her after her treatment. It’s put me at ease because I finally have someone to talk to and is in the same situation as I am. We both come from a culture in which when or parents and elderly get old, we treat them respect and take care of them. It’s been a great burden to me as I’m still young and haven’t experienced many things. I’ve found over the last three months, I’ve sacrificed so much for my family and struggle to cling onto my one vestige of hope for the future: my dreams.

I’m really frightened that I have to give up all of my dreams, I’ve already sacrificed a lot of my youth that I will never get back. I stayed home, studied, cooked for family as a student, while my friends went clubbing and had social lives. By the time I had graduated and had free time, everyone was starting from scratch and studying for real. I remember having a crying fit on the bus because I had sacrificed so much of my life and none of my friends (being privileged and without worries) didn’t understand why I was upset.

I always try hard. I fall down, fail and get up and keep trying to succeed. My life has never been perfect but I have reached what goals I set and then set new ones. Step by step. Day by day. I struggled through college, having to subset my school funds to pay for my older brother’s debt and keep it from bankrupting the family. I was held back a semester, my peers jeered and called me lazy not understanding my situation.

It’s hard for Westerners and non-traditional Asians to understand the type of pressure a traditional Asian girl goes through. They say, “grow a back bone! Break the mould!”

If we were to do so, we may never see out families again. Despite all the hardships and trials, I sincerely love both my mother and father.

There are already high to impossible standards erected that we have to crane and warp our bodies and minds to the point of becoming so twisted and broken we smile regardless the situation because we have forgotten or cannot cry. We are abused so badly, told we are ugly, fat until we become something we no longer were. It’s hard for people to understand the weight of that pressure.

There are times that the demands from the Western world and my traditional community that cripple me with depression as I can never appease both sides.

For days I sat in my room, unable to cry. Wanted desperately to cry out of bitterness. And I couldn’t. Because it was a shameful thing to do and in a recession I could not afford to cry or be weak.

I knew I was a pillar in a family that sat on a weak foundation. Because of the flaws in the other parts of the house, the main burden of the family fell onto my shoulders.

Chika had to give up architecture for a period to help run the family business. We went out with her after my test for Book and Magazine Publishing. We went to Indigo. I wanted the new issue of Otaku USA. We stood in the magazine section and I ran up and down the isles looking for a book in my interest when she fell upon the architecture section. She was almost in tears. She grabbed three books, stopping to point out every detail in the building. Explaining the details and what buildings are what and how they are build and how the models are cut in plastic.

She wanted to go to school, if she had continued her mother’s health would have depreciated and perhaps…

I felt such great shame. I swallowed my words as long as I could, until I couldn’t. I apologized profusely later.

She said it was great though, it rekindled her love of architecture. It reminded her of architecture, her dreams. And then she paused and wondered aloud what type of reception she would receive. “I’m too old for a second year student. I’m afraid of what my peers will say.”

There is an Indian woman, a clerk, know my mother through her mother because they knew each other. Thus we know each other.

Unfortunately, they also both had been laid off.

I was buying a bottle of gin behind my father’s back, I smiled and said, “your mother came to my house.”

“Oh yes, she said that your mother and my mother were going to attend English.” My mother spoke the best English out of that whole factory. My mother gets colours mixed up. In Cambodian. She doesn’t even have an elementary school education. For hours I sat with her teaching her how to get her citizenship by seeing the sentences and words as a symbols, rather than language when my father had given up and I had to intervene as my brother’s method’s were abusive.

She smiled back tired, “my mother calls me everyday.”

“It must be hard,” I nod.

She packs my bottle, which I promptly shove into my worn, red leather bag.

We’re both fairly close in age. But at the moment I realized that the both of us were talking like 30 year old housewives, “my mother. She’s been laid off for so long, she doesn’t know what to to or how to do things for herself.” She puts on another tired and worn smile, “She’s like a child.”

When things go wrong, the burden usually falls on the oldest son. But these days, I find that traditionally raised sons in the Western world are headstrong and when become adults start abusing and neglecting their elders. I’m meeting a lot of Asians daughters, Indian daughters, who tell me that the responsibility of caring for their older parents has fallen to them during these hard times due to their the sons in the family having “their own lives” and cannot transfer the burden or do not want to due to filial piety. It turns a rough situation into an even rougher situation that many offer solutions for without understanding.

This series will not only chronicle my experiences with the Canadian government’s unemployment insurance, the Daily Food Bank and other things that many well off or not people consider a hand out or a mark of near poverty, but it will also show my view and thoughts during this recession and during hard times in the past.

I hope this will bring a new perspective on poorness and make the people who think that I am “well off” realize what it took to get to that point.


~ by l on March 2, 2009.

2 Responses to “[Hand-Out] Introduction: Filial Piety”

  1. “…in a recession I could not afford to cry or be weak.”
    Not even a little bit? These feelings shouldn’t inspire shame in you. You might not be able to change your situation but you can look at the way you’re handling it inside. And you can remember how you feel now, so you don’t place your future children in the same hole.

  2. No. I might have gotten mad, but it’s more because I was busy and dealing with things. I rarely cry when I’m in the middle of a challenging situation.

    I’m choosing not to have children, mostly because I don’t want to subject them to the same pressure I’m going through or have the face the same social stigma I was forced to. I might change my mind in the future… Right now, I don’t have any plans to have my own children. I’d rather sponsor children so that they may gain a better education in Canada.

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