A THREAD OF SKY by Deanna Fei

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Reminder: Today is the LAST DAY to enter the May giveaway. Last week I shared my “Reading Reflections” on one of the books, and today I’m sharing on the other.

Being Asian — or Asian American, or Chinese, or Chinese American? — meant something, even if she wasn’t fresh off the boat or an activist like Kay. It meant saving, it meant over-compensating. Having to be smarter, tougher, more practical. The fear of good things running out. It mean never being completely at ease. It meant constant guilt toward your parents. It meant feeling vaguely ashamed, even if you didn’t know why, even if your family was no means poor or unaccomplished or spectacularly dysfunctional. (24-25)

Well, I’m certainly not ashamed of myself or my family. But I do feel some of these things. And I’m sure other Asian Americans do as well. Others don’t.

That’s the thing. It’s hard to encapsulate the experience of an entire group of people. Because groups are made up of individuals, and individuals are all so different. We’re not all going to agree. There are Tiger Moms, Paper Tigers, or Not a Tiger At Alls.

But to find where we stand, it’s often helpful to see where everyone else is. So it’s worth talking about, even if we disagree. It’s worth understanding others in order to understand ourselves.

One of the things I liked about this book was that each of the 6 main characters had a unique view point about themselves and their heritage. I could see bits of myself in all of them.

It occurred to Irene that Americans these days hungered to write tell-all memoirs, chart family trees, even trace their DNA — not to illuminate the future, but to revel in the past. Everyone wanted to find and display their link to some shameful history, some buried tragedy, thinking somehow it made them special, when really, what could be more ordinary? She supposed in this young, rich country, people felt too light and free. They wanted weight; wanted to feel themselves tethered more solidly. (95)

Beautifully put, and (I think) fairly true. I’m not saying every memoirist is an exhibitionist — not even close — but I’m thinking more about the online culture. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook. We put our lives on display. We think it makes us special. But really, if everyone’s doing it…

Ironic, coming from me, no? Well, the flip side is that, just like in real life, on the internet you make a group of friends, and you get to know them, and then you do care about what they’re saying, and you do think they’re special.

As for memoirs, what I think is worse than everyone wanting to air out their dirty laundry for 15 minutes of fame and fortune is that the public is so willing to buy it.

(Again, I am NOT saying this is true of every memoirist. I’m mostly thinking of celebrities who sensationalize their pasts in order to make a quick buck. Judgmental of me? Yup. Sorry, I guess that’s my inner cynic showing through.)

In Chinese, there were only good or bad kids, no good or bad mothers. (83)

Enough said.

No one had the right to do whatever they wanted. No one should. Progress didn’t mean having it all. Everything in life was a trade-off. Nothing was spared from this, not children, not anything. (208)

FOR SERIOUS.

My generation in particular has such an entitlement problem. We were told we could do and have anything we wanted — but we conveniently forgot the part about having to work really freaking hard to get it. There’s a big difference between being privileged and being spoiled. I do my best to stay on the right side of that line.

Also, as a feminist, this quote reminds me that feminism isn’t about getting everything. It’s about getting choices. And sometimes those choices are hard.

I don’t have accompanying thoughts for these last few lines. I just thought they were lovely and true.

Enough of drawing lines between strength and weakness, great and ordinary, themselves and other women. They’d drawn lines until they’d drawn themselves into cages. (267)

“You think you know China, but you don’t know the first thing about being Chinese. It’s about family. Jia” — Irene slashed the air with it — “family, house, home. In Chinese, it’s all one word.” (276)

Once one set of needs is satisfied, the next starts to clamor. (276)

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9 Comments

  1. The theme I’m getting from your post and the quotes combined is “entitlement.” I’d venture to say that entitlement is fundamental to all human cultures (maybe animal and plant ones, too), but who or what is entitled? In America, it’s definitely the individual, the wealthy, the young. In Asian cultures, I get the sense that it’s the family and the elders. Seeing how different cultures have different focal points is fascinating.

  2. People also forget that there are many many Asian cultures. I relate to some of this, understand most, but haven’t experienced it all. The Asian experience is not homogeneous, which you pointed out :)

  3. Les

    Being “North American” as in generally European white is a little boring by comparison… maybe it’s just me, I dunno. I’m excited to read it, if I don’t win it it’s going on my list.

  4. Liking the new picture up there. Life is about choices, the ones we make for ourselves and for our families. Without choice life is dull and boring (in my opinion). I’m not sure I see an entitlement problem within your entire generation, I think it’s a common thread through out American history. It just looks different in each generation. I don’t like the airing of dirty laundry memoirs, to me that’s boring. What I do like is reading about other cultures and the people within them, the lives they’re leading or have lead. Reading makes me feel more connected, the same with being online. It’s all about the choices and connections.

  5. Jon

    “My generation in particular has such an entitlement problem. We were told we could do and have anything we wanted — but we conveniently forgot the part about having to work really freaking hard to get it.”

    I love this line from your blog. So true. When are we gonna realize that it’s just not so easy out in the real world? I wonder if this is the sort of growing pains every generation goes through.

  6. Cool new banner, by the way. I likey.

  7. Sonje-
    Thanks! I like this so much better than the deer.

    Hmm, I didn’t think of it so broadly, but I see your point. As Jon and Joelle said, maybe it’s a growing pain that most cultures/generations go through, each in its own way.

    T.S.-
    True as well. I think we (Asians) often get lumped together (or lump ourselves together) because we’re more similar to each other than to, say, South Americans. But South Americans are extremely diverse too. It all depends on the discussion and how far people want to break things down.

    Les-
    Lol, well half of me very indignantly says that whites/Europeans have interesting culture and history too! But in modern times, yeah, it’s sort of the default, so it seems boring by comparison…

    Joelle-
    Thanks! And yeah, like you, I’d rather learn. About history or culture, I mean, not personal secrets.

    Jon-
    I think to some extent it IS something that every generation goes through. But… our generation seems snottier about it. Lol. Like we’ve got a higher learning curve. But maybe that’s just my biased POV.

  8. I missed your May giveaway, but then again, I won something in April, so I should give other people a chance :)

    I love this line: “It’s hard to encapsulate the experience of an entire group of people. Because groups are made up of individuals, and individuals are all so different.”

    As for blogging, Facebook, I think they’re a lot like memoirs – you pick and choose which parts of yourself and your life you want to share, and that shapes how people see you. Often the person we’re putting on display isn’t a person at all, but a persona.

  9. That’s certainly true too! Good point.

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