The worst! This was the worst day in my life. If not the worst, certainly the most tragic. The day would live in infamy as the day the Nagarajan family moved to the US. 

Independence of a Lao American Woman

The ability to come into my own, as an independent Asian American woman, was an internal struggle between both cultures. Looking back, there were always conflicting expectations to meet Lao cultural norms while meeting American societal ones. As every chapter of life unfolded, I carried two nagging questions of confirmation: Are you doing what your parents say you’re supposed to be doing? And are you meeting all of the social norms of being an American? 

If you’re of Asian descent, chances are you understand that our parents’ demands are heavy, regardless of if you’re 15 or 30 years old. From as far back as I can remember, mom and dad would never fail to remind me, “Oh that’s not our way of doing things! Don’t tarnish our family name.” While my friends would challenge, “So.. Why aren’t you able to do this again?”

It also didn’t take long to come to the realization that sons and daughters would never be withheld to the same standards. My brother would bring girlfriends over to spend the night, go out late with friends, drink beer and smoke cigarettes, without a single comment from mom and dad. I, on the other hand, was never allowed to have boyfriends, never allowed to attend an all-girls slumber party, was discouraged from wearing shorts and tank tops to school, and had strict curfews imposed upon me. At the age of 19, when I wanted to move out just as all my other friends were, mom and dad made it clear that I never needed to leave home and contested, “Why? You can stay home with us until you marry a man!” Something that was customary in Lao culture. In fact, staying home into adulthood to take care of your parents was something that was expected. I took notice of other Lao households when sons would marry their wives and bring them to live in their parents’ home. Everything felt backward and confusing, watching how the typical American would come into independence, while I was stuck and hesitant to make any moves. 

My desire to move on and become an adult was always followed by overwhelming feelings of guilt, as though I was betraying my family in doing so. I was torn inside, feeling wrong for having boyfriends as a teenager, wrong for wanting to find my first apartment, wrong for not being married yet, wrong for not taking care of mom and dad. Conversely, wrong for not having a boyfriend, wrong for not moving out yet, and wrong for not starting my own life. Where am I and where am I supposed to be? 

Truly, no matter what background you come from, the act of independence alone is already a challenge for every man and woman out there. Those underlying fears and doubts we carry as individual people in and of themselves are already present. I had to learn that even with contradicting standards and regardless of where I was to\ld to be, I had no choice but to find the courage to be independent on my own terms. I had to learn that my parents were not at fault because they were shaped by the values of their own society and upbringing, passing it onto their children. 

Today’s Asian American has to find ways to redefine independence, honoring their culture while functioning in an unfamiliar society. This is the first generation complex that many of us have had to face because while we own blended identities, we continue to make new rules, continue to set a new example, continue to progress, and create the definition of independence on our own. With this added layer, both scary and beautiful at the same time, we still have to own our independence just like any other person does. We cannot hold resentments to the customs we bear, yet we cannot resist our new environments, the only thing that’s left for us is to adapt and build as we go, in order to come into our independence for it’s the only choice we have. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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