Growing Up Asian American Style

Jill Kunishima


Asian Americans are born into a hybrid culture. By day, we are American. We eat hamburgers, we watch TV, and we shop at the mall. By night, we are forced back into our Asian minded upbringings, complete with prideful views on race, a strict adherence to educational excellence, and relatively forced, stifled conversation, if any.

Luckily, my parents were not as extreme in their views as some of my friend's parents. They didn't care about who I did or did not befriend, and they realized there was more to life than a 4.0. What they did have, however, was a knack for uncomfortable and odd conversation, especially in regards to maturation, puberty and inevitably sex.

I think the first exposure I had to my parent's level of discomfort was when my younger sister, who is about four years younger than me, found a condom. I was in fourth grade, and had just experienced Sex Education 101 at school.
"Mommy, what's this?," she asked innocently, flapping the little square package around.
My Mother, who suddenly took on a look of horror, muttered: "Go ask your Dad."
"Okay!," she exclaimed and skipped along.
Within minutes came the inevitable phrase: "Daddy, what's this?"
He took one look at the condom, one look at my Mom, and muttered: "You put it uh… on your… nose."
"Okay!," my sister exclaimed again.
At this point, she somehow knew to open it, took the condom out… and put it on her nose.
To this day, I have a crystal clear mental picture of her with a condom on her nose, blowing it in and out, and causing it to expand, like a peculiar shaped balloon.

Within a couple years, it happened: I got my period.
"Mom, I'm bleeding."
"Congratulations!," she rejoiced, and gave me a pad the size of a pillow.
I was so confused. Why was she happy? Regardless of the reasons, her happiness made me happy, because it meant she wasn't mad at me, as she normally is when something on my person starts bleeding.

A few months later, as I was getting my hair cut with my hairdresser, my Mom came rushing into the salon. She, in her skin-tight leggings and oversized orange shirt from Turkey Trot 1985, looked like she had run the actual race meets Halloween parade, even though she had probably just gone to the grocery store.

As she made her way to my chair, the look in her eye informed me of impending doom. And then she asked it:
My Mom's usually loud "teacher" voice carried itself through the salon. Since the salon wasn't big, I'm pretty sure it carried itself to the ear of every customer.
"A 747 please, thanks," I said.

Then came the infamous Talk…

The Talk was very overdue and very brief. In fact, it wasn't much of a talk at all; it was more like giving me a book that might as well have been entitled "The Book About The Talk For Children With Parents Who Don't Like To Talk About Sex." This lovely book had pictures, including a cross-section of sexual intercourse so you could see exactly how it worked. Needless to say, I was disgusted by it, so I "hid" it (AKA: I threw the book behind the washing machine), never to be seen again.

Around this time came the first bra shopping trip as well. Everything about the trip was just uncomfortable: I was flat as an ironing board, the scary saleslady had cold hands, and what the heck was a Wonderbra anyway? Besides all of those things, I think it was the name of the bra that pushed it over the top: "TGIF: Thank God It Fits!" I was an "almost A"… and almost ready to puke.

Eventually, the weird conversations subsided, and all was fine and dandy.

And then my doctor told me I should look into getting my first OB/GYN appointment soon.
So I set up an appointment, and my Mom dropped me off. The doctor was very good; even the evil metal duck lips didn't seem so terrible.
And then, out of the blue, my Mom decided to ask me a question:
"Do you have sex?"
So she repeated the oddly timed question, and I start to answer "no"… but before I even really get to finish my monosyllabic response, she begins to utter a most garbled response:
"I mean, if you do, it's okay… I mean, as long as you use protection, I mean, just be safe."
And at this moment, I feel no embarrassment or frustration, just joy.
"I know, Mom. I know."
She glances back, and smiles.
"I know you do. I know."