By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
How to American
By Jimmy O. Yang
Da Capo Press, 2018
When Jimmy O. Yang graduated from college at the University of California, San Diego, he received a degree in economics. But he knew the last thing he wanted to do was to work in the field he had spent the last five years (because he took an extra year) studying. The speaker at the graduation ceremony was Mike Judge, creator of shows including “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill.” Judge’s recounting of how he left his Silicon Valley job to work in television was the inspiration Yang needed to pursue stand-up comedy and acting, which has led him to become a series regular on HBO’s “Silicon Valley.”
But before all of that happened, Yang was a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong trying to learn where he fit in his new home of Los Angeles.
He recounts the culture shock he experienced upon arriving in the United States and the path that led to where he is today — which includes nearly being deported during a trip to Tijuana, Mexico, and working as a strip club DJ.
While the details may be different, a lot of the emotions Yang goes through are similar to what many people with an immigrant background — whether they are first generation or are the children of immigrants — may feel. All he wants is to fit in with his American peers — the last thing he wants is to be lumped in with the other Asians and Asian Americans around him.
Through humor and a few heartfelt moments, Yang shows us the importance of being true to yourself and doing what’s right for you. As he put it, he would rather disappoint his parents for a few years instead of disappointing himself for his whole life. This is not an easy lesson to learn and can be hard to put into practice. And Yang shows in his moments of self-doubt that it is not all smooth sailing either, which is something for everyone to keep in mind while pursuing your dream, as well as through life in general.
The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure
By Shoba Narayan
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2018
On the day Shoba Narayan and her family move into their apartment in Bangalore, she encounters a woman, accompanied by a cow, in the building elevator. The woman, Sarala, explains that she is there for a housewarming ceremony for another resident. Instead of being confused or scoffing at this, Narayan simply asks if the woman could bless her apartment next.
This request marks the beginning of a friendship between the two women, as Narayan begins purchasing fresh milk from Sarala, who sells it across the street from a modern apartment building. Their friendship goes beyond cows and milk, as they bond over family, food, and other aspects of life. And when Narayan agrees to buy Sarala a cow, it sets off an adventure to find the right heifer, which grows into something much deeper — and because we’re dealing with creatures with minds of their own, we get a bit of slapstick thrown in for good measure.
In addition to recounting their adventure, Narayan does a good job of incorporating facts and information on just about anything you would want to know (or not know) about cows and milk. From a rundown of different cow breeds, to the benefits of cow urine and manure, all of this gives readers more background and context for why cows are so revered in India. I’ll admit that as I read about how milk from different bovine breeds not only taste different, but could also have different effects on the body, I poured myself a glass just to see if I could identify any of the properties Narayan mentions (I could not).
Narayan also illustrates one of the struggles that people of modern age face as thousands of years of culture and tradition clashes with 21st century science and mindsets. As open as she may be to learning and trying most things cow, it is often with a sense of hesitation as she works to convince herself that people in India have been partaking and consuming this way for centuries and they seem to be doing fine.
No Man’s Land
By Aasif Mandvi
Chronicle Books, 2014
At the age of 16, Aasif Mandvi’s family moved from Great Britain to the United States. The move was prompted by his father’s fascination with a very specific, very American word. Brunch.
This is just one of the stories Mandvi shares in “No Man’s Land.” These stories range from being bullied in the schoolyards of his British grammar school and later at an all-boys boarding school in northern England, to performing as Michael Jackson in high school, to what it is like to be a brown person in show business. With many hyphens to his identity (Indian-Muslim-British-American), Mandvi shares his journey to find where he fits in this world and as the title infers, it is not easy to explain where he is from — especially when he has admittedly spent more time in bars than mosques. At one point, he even joined a Bible study group in an effort to seduce a nice Christian girl.
For American readers, Mandvi also shows what life can be like for Asian immigrant families in other countries. And while he grew up in a community that had a large South Asian population, he shares how he still struggled with his identity, reflecting on the hatred he felt (which he later realized was actually jealousy) toward a cousin visiting from India, who was completely comfortable with how he looked, spoke, and dressed because he was just like everyone else back home.
With a mixture of humor and heart, Mandvi’s story is one that will resonate with anyone who has ever wanted to find their place in their world, to find where they fit in with the rest of the human race. It doesn’t matter if you are part of the minority or majority, whether you’re a native or foreign-born, wanting to belong is something most of us can relate to.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.