Guest Article from C. Christina Ho
One of the most frustrating things about my upbringing as an Asian daughter was the constant reminder from my mom of what other people thought. It wasn’t enough that we had real issues to deal with in our own lives, we had to also manufacture more issues related to other people’s feelings or views of us. As I became more Americanized over the past 30 years living in this country, I was able to become more immune to that anxiety. Nonetheless, the preoccupation with other people’s views has continued to drive my mom’s emotions and anxiety, as if the only voice she knew were others. As I reflect on the tragic loss of the Asian women’s lives in Atlanta last week, and the general lack of Asian voice or the disregard of the voice for real changes, I couldn’t help but think about the fundamental impact of Asian women’s inability to know our voice, why it is so crucial for us to know and use our voice even if we are not heard, and how we could discover it again.
Most Asian women, regardless of where they grow up, have been told either explicitly or implicitly that their needs and opinions are not as important as others. In fact, many of us have been taught (often by our own mothers or relatives) to sacrifice ourselves for others, for our families, our children, and/or our community. We should deny our own desires, career, relationships, etc. for the sake of our families, children, and even our parents’ honor. Over time, this self-denial silences or suppresses our own desire or creates so much guilt, shame, and even self-contempt when we even try to acknowledge, confirm or pursue our own goals or passion. Asian women not only carry the typical baggage of being discounted and silenced as women, but we also carry the burden of preserving the entire family’s honor and wellbeing.
Our voice expresses our feelings and convictions. If our feelings and desires are suppressed because we were told to preserve harmony for the greater good even in the face of racism or sexism, we stop caring for ourselves. Our identity is no longer grounded in our humanity but in our functional purpose – to serve our family, to protect them from any shame, to keep the peace, etc. Eventually, we began to believe that was our identity or purpose and we lose our ability to even know our voice. What Asian culture does not get is that without self-love, we could not love others. Self-love requires that we know what we want, what our needs are, who we are, and why we matter.
As a mother, I have become more aware of how important self-love and self-care are for my daughter’s sake. When I was on maternity leave, I received an important job offer. I knew the job would come with expanded responsibilities and pressure. As I was considering it, my mother said that I shouldn’t take the job because I was a new mother and I should think about my child first, not my career. I ended up taking the job against my mother’s advice and everything worked out fine. Sure I had to work hard and smart, but my career and wellbeing of my child did not have to be mutually exclusive. The main reason I decided to take the job was that I wanted my daughter to be free from my expectations later because of my sacrifice for her.
Most of the time Asian women don’t speak up because they didn’t think it would matter. Not every time we risk speaking up would mean that we would be heard or we would get the positive outcomes we wanted. Yet, we must speak up because we need to know our own voice. Our daughters need us to know our voice so that they feel free to use theirs. To rediscover our voice, we must continue to speak up for ourselves and for others who are voiceless.
About the Guest Author
Christina grew up in Macau and moved to the US to go to college over 30 years ago. She is a senior executive with broad experience in public finance & policy, data analytics, and technology innovation. She is passionate about helping women reach their fullest potential. She is a mother to a beautiful 8-yr old girl and lives with her mother in DC.