Sometimes I wish I grew up in Idaho.
I’ve read stories about the people who move to California to become stars and entrepreneurs ever since I was young. Growing up in the Silicon Valley, especially as an Asian American, I’m always faced with new challenges and opportunities–like the new tutoring center that opened across the street–but there’s a side that’s been hidden. It means fighting with equally privileged children whose parents want success more than they do. Idaho seems so much more calm and serene in comparison to the fast paced tech city that I’m from. They have the luxury of time and freedom.
A few unforgettable traditions of my community revolves around parents comparing children to their friends, listing extracurriculars off the top of our heads, and fighting over the bill at Chinese restaurants. Everything about my observable world is competitive. I mean, even the Chinese name for California is 旧金山, or gold mountain. Not second, not third, but first.
Even from second grade, there was always some sort of competition between classmates. I never really enjoyed being one upped by my friends because they got a higher percentage on their algebra test, but what I just hated was when the “math kids” began to trash talk the art of words. Writing was a foreign concept to them. The only sentences they could appreciate were those of a word problem. But I always knew my words were powerful, and I loved them.
My asian parents weren’t exactly unsupportive of my endeavors, but they definitely could understand a love of STEM greater than my love of writing. When they were young adults, my parents moved from China to Missouri so that my dad could complete his doctorate in electrical engineering. After graduation, they moved to California, looking forward to the promises of a good life and supporting job, just like the Chinese had in the golden year of 1848. What met them was far from that. Being immigrants, they had a rocky start with finances, renting a small apartment to sustain themselves and my sister. Eventually, four years later, they moved out and into a house almost three times as big as the first had been. There, my parents had me.
I grew up in that spacious house, shielded from the hardships my parents had to endure for the long years before my birth. However, that didn’t prevent my mom from working hard to make sure I could live a life free of the struggles they had lived through. She never forgot to remind me that we have to work harder to be successful, simply because we’re first generation Americans. That meant focusing on studies 24/7, so I could edge out all the other Asians standing in my path to Stanford, the dream school that my sister and my parents have always wanted me to attend, with an impossible 5.0 gpa. The beautiful weather, the palm trees sprinkled around the 8,180 acre campus, and its prestigious name captivate the hearts of all those in the bay area.
I remember sitting in the car on the way to school as a kindergartener, listening to my sister recite her multiplication tables, and my dad softly reminding me to listen closely because I needed to know them, too. The numbers jumbled in my head, not able to sort themselves into a meaning that I could comprehend. My mom handed me math worksheets to do after school when we waited for my sister. I learned my multiplication tables up to ten times ten is one hundred (十十一百) in English and Chinese by the summer before second grade. She taught me long division before I learned fractions in school.
After second grade, I moved a couple of miles from my birthplace. Here, there were fewer people, but the ratios were still the same; Asians were omniscient and omnipresent. In fourth grade, my mom signed me up for my school’s Mathleague team, where I would practice math and go to competitions with students several years older than me.
I was so proud of myself when I qualified to go to the state competition; all of my work had finally paid off. But the happiness only lasted for a while before I remembered that math had been expected from me, instead of actually being chosen. I didn’t deserve to have the win over the other students who would appreciate the chance to go to state more than I did. All those long hours staying up at night filling out division worksheets so I could make my parents happy reminded me that it wasn’t what I wanted. The way they had taught me to think was that math could get you everywhere. They scolded me for thinking in English and not in numbers, but in reality, I didn’t want my mind to be crammed with 1’s and 0’s.
However, not only am I living in an Asian American community, I live in the Silicon Valley. My dad works at the Googleplex, the headquarters of one of the three major companies that had turned Silicon Valley into a 3.8 trillion dollar neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, I love living here, in the epicenter of technology and innovation, but it gets boring. Every day, I’m reminded how lucky I am to be living near the Apple park and Googleplex, much unlike the vast acres of grassland and mountain ranges called Idaho.
The big tech boom in Silicon Valley continues to shape so many lives, including mine. My family is 99.99999… percent (that equals 100%; don’t ask, I just know) tech and stem oriented. I, on the other hand, don’t enjoy math. Even though I still sit through lectures from my favorite math teacher and dutifully complete my homework while on the phone with friends so I can teach them to understand the concepts, I don’t enjoy it.
My parents made sure that I would have a head start in math from a young age, which makes sense, but when I’m multiplying in Chinese under my breath in class, the numbers fly right over my head. I took math class outside of school so that I could make the honor roll in AMC 8(American Math Competition) and continue to compete in Mathcounts for my school, but where’s the fun in that?
My parents love math; they say it makes sense: no abstraction, no subjectivity. I see no point in boxy concepts; they’re all the same. Solve for x. Solve for y. Do it all again. Show your work. Circle your answer. As a girl who enjoys to feel the ink flow from a new pen and see loops turn into words, sentences, and essays, growing up being told to use a calculator is difficult for me. When I was about nine years old, in fourth grade, we learned to write metaphorical poetry. Even though I wasn’t perfect at it, I loved to imagine a lion as a storm and an owl as the moon:
The lion comes Out of his den To stalk his prey He creeps by the reeds, and Scares the small creatures Back in their dens. He peeks Through the tall grass And spots his meal. Strike! A streak of light is The only sign of The lion as he attacks. He roars Thunder, and chomps on his food; He shakes his mane, And a flood of rain Washes down. The storm passes, And all is well. Back in the den, The lion counts down the days Till the next time He can feel the joy Of hunting Again.
Looking back on my first poem, Lion Storms, I can almost feel the sparks in my fingers as I dragged a pink mechanical pencil across the paper. I can almost feel the corners of my lips lifting up just thinking about a little girl in braids imagining a lion hunting in the rain. I can almost feel my legs, sore from standing on my toes for too long, trying to hang my poem up on my wall amongst the math certificates my mom had put up for me.
Silicon Valley has provided so many opportunities for me. There are classes to take on every corner of the street, coding workshops hosted by smart engineers, and schools that give out laptops to finish homework with. I’ve taken all of those opportunities, but I still don’t feel happy. Some can say I’m spoiled, and I wholeheartedly agree. But knowing I’m spoiled doesn’t change what I want to be striving for. Not math, not computer science, not physics, but just some plain old poetry. My future isn’t as set in stone as the girl next door who’s studying engineering, but at least it’s a future that I will enjoy and have already grown to love.
And that’s the only thing I want.
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