I broke the news to her in the corner of a dimly lit sushi restaurant, with faded plastic boats bobbing beside us in their artificial moat, making me slightly sick to my already nervous stomach.
“Mom,” I told her, wringing my hands together in front of my untouched dinner, “I want to go to art school.”
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised at all when the first word that came out of her mouth after a brief silence was “No.”
Growing up in an Asian household, you learn a few things. Granted, my parents were quite lenient, even by normal standards, but some cultural roots run too deep to be washed away even by twenty years of American influence. There are some small things like: don’t stab your chopsticks into your rice bowl, or fight for the bill at the end of the meal. Then, there are some big things, like always always respect your elders.
Or, in my case, it was impressed on my from an early age that work is for making money. Once you have a stable, wellpaying job, then you can think about “hobbies” like art.
I told her why I had come to that decision as I picked at my food, we talked about it a little for the rest of dinner, but it was strained, and we could both tell that it was only the start of a long conflict. The next few months were filled with arguments, both calm discussions and emotional shouting matches that left us both angry and tearstained. She dropped backhanded comments and forceful suggestions, I retaliated with brooding silence and stubborn refusal.
To my mother, becoming an “artist” wasn’t a job, it was a death sentence. She was genuinely afraid that I was not good enough, that I didn’t have the skill or talent to make it, either in art school or beyond. “Only the best of the best make it in the art world,” she told me, “and…” She hesitated as she said it. “I really don’t think you’re one of them.”
And why not? She had only seen snippets of my work, childish paintings from when I was in elementary school, still hung up on the walls as a daily reminder of just how unfit I was to become a professional illustrator, as I dreamed. To let me, her only daughter, practically throw herself headlong into what seemed to be a surefire spiral of destruction, disappointment and unemployment.
It was a battle between her better judgement and my dreams, between her conviction and my stubbornness, between her culture and mine.
It’s been almost a year now, since that night at the sushi restaurant, and we’re still settling our differences. She wants me to go to a public college to “keep my options open” and I’m still pushing for full private art college.
Who’s right? Only time can tell. But each day I can see my mother struggling to reconcile what she thinks is best for me and what I think is best for me, and I hate myself a little, every day, for putting her through it. I hate myself for dreaming of a future where she’ll hold her breath with every stumble and fall for fear that it’s the trip up that sends me plummeting to failure. I hate myself for being the cause of her distress.
But not enough to give up.