In my mother’s more angry and disillusioned moods, she often declares that my sisters and I are “smarter than is good” for us, by which she means we are too ambitious, too independent-minded, and somehow, subtly un-Chinese. At such times, I do not argue, for I realize how difficult it must be for her and my father—having to deal with children who reject their simple idea of life and threaten to drag them into a future they do not understand. For my parents, plans for our futures were very simple. We were to get good grades, go to good colleges, and become good scientists, mathematicians, or engineers. It had to do with being Chinese. But my sisters and I rejected that future, and the year I came home with Honors in English, History and Debate was a year of disillusion for my parents. It was not that they weren’t proud of my accomplishments, but merely that they had certain ideas of what was safe and solid, what we did in life. Physics, math, turning in homework, and crossing the street when Hare Krishnas were on our side—those things were safe. But the Humanities we left for Pure Americans.

Unfortunately for my parents, however, the security of that world is simply not enough for me, and I have scared them more than once with what they call my “wild” treks into unfamiliar areas. I spent one afternoon interviewing the Hare Krishnas for our school newspaper—and they nearly called the police. Then, to make things worse, I decided to enter the Crystal Springs Drama contest. For my parents, acting was something Chinese girls did not do. It smacked of the bohemian, and was but a short step to drugs, debauchery, and all the dark, illicit facets of life. They never did approve of the experience—even despite my second place at Crystal Springs and my assurances that acting was, after all, no more than a whim.

What I was doing when was moving away from the security my parents prescribed. I was motivated by my own desire to see more of what life had to offer, and by ideas I’d picked up at my Curriculum Committee meetings. This committee consisted of teachers who felt that students should learn to understand life, not memorize formulas; that somehow our college preparatory curriculum had to be made less rigid. There were English teachers who wanted to integrate Math into other more “important” science courses, and Math teachers who wanted to abolish English entirely. There were even some teachers who suggested making Transcendental Meditation a requirement. But the common denominator behind these slightly eccentric ideas was a feeling that the school should produce more thoughtful individuals, for whom life meant more than good grades and Ivy League futures. Their values were precisely the opposite of those my parents had instilled in me.

It has been a difficult task indeed for me to reconcile these two opposing impulses. It would be simple enough just to rebel against all my parents expect. But I cannot afford to rebel. There is too much that is fragile—the world my parents have worked so hard to build, the security that comes with it, and a fading Chinese heritage. I realize it must be immensely frustrating for my parents, with children who are persistently “too smart” for them and their simple idea of life, living in a land they have come to consider home, and yet can never fully understand. In a way, they have stopped trying to understand it, content with their own little microcosms. It is my burden now to build my own, new world without shattering theirs; to plunge into the future without completely letting go of the past. And that is a challenge I am not at all certain I can meet.