A Look at Asian-American Financial & Family Values
On February 16th next week, many people around the world including my family will celebrate Chinese New Year. It’s the Year of the Dog. As a huge animal lover, I’m excited that the year highlights this familiar and beloved house pet. But I think my mom is even more excited than I am. Chinese New Year marks a new beginning with excitement and hopes for the year ahead. My mom can’t wait to kick things off by debuting new clothes and slippers.
Although my family has been in the US for about a century, we still enjoy celebrating Chinese New Year including several of the traditions that go along with the day. One tradition is to wear new clothes and dress in red. Red is the color of good luck, happiness, and prosperity, all things anyone would want for themselves during the year . With all the planning and anticipation of Chinese New Year next week, I want to take a look at some Asian-American financial and family values that still influence our lives today.
These values that I write about here are based on my experience growing up in a Chinese-American household and having many Asian-American family members and friends. Asian-Americans are a diverse bunch of people, so I can’t say that everything here is true for everyone. Still, what I list here is true as I know it.
Food is Love
I’ve found over the years that many Asian parents and family members don’t say “I love you.” Instead, they express their love in other ways. One of the main ones is by feeding you. Whenever you visit a family member, the first thing he or she will ask is if you’ve eaten yet. Then they’ll offer you some food, even if you have already eaten. If they have extra food, they might pack some up for you or give you some fruit to take with you when you leave.
Another way Asian-American parents show they care is by pushing you to succeed academically. I can’t recall the number of times I heard “listen to your teacher, get good grades, and go to college” while growing up. Asian-American parents believe that being academically successful is key to being a successful adult. Good grades result in getting into top schools and getting better jobs, where you’ll make more money. You’ll make enough money to support yourself and your family comfortably. Your children will have a stable upbringing and be even better off than you were growing up.
To that end, my parents and my friends’ parents supported us in college and in graduate school. Asian-American parents see it as their responsibility to ensure that their children become successful adults. Education is crucial to this, so parents are responsible for supporting their children’s education in whatever way they can, whether financially or otherwise. I still recall my mom mentioning the vacations and other luxuries my parents sacrificed to ensure the college fund was funded as I was growing up.
For Asian-Americans, homeownership is a huge accomplishment. Living in the home that you own is the gold standard of living accommodations. It signifies that you’ve made it financially. You have property in your name. You have a place for you and your family members to live essentially forever.
To achieve this, family members will assist with a down payment or in any way they can to help you secure your own home. It’s common for adult children to live at home in order to save as much money as possible for a down payment. Living at home as an adult isn’t looked down upon. It’s seen as being smart. Many Asian-Americans will tell you that renting is throwing money away.
I know that living at home isn’t for everyone, but it has its benefits. Parents know that you’re safe, healthy, and close by. Grandparents often cook meals for the family and provide childcare for the grandchildren if they have the time and ability. You can also look out for your parents and help them with anything they might need.
Strong family ties
Traditionally, Asian-American families are close-knit. Family members live together or near each other. It’s common for several generations to live in one household. Young women live at home until they get married.
Nowadays it’s increasingly common for family members to live apart. College, marriage, and jobs take people away and they may live elsewhere domestically and internationally. Men and women are marrying at older ages too, so the idea of living at home until age 30 or 35 may not appeal to some adults. But the idea of strong ties remain. Several Asian-American adults that I’ve talked to plan to take care of their parents as they age. It’s expected of them to take care of their parents and they accept that role.
Hard work (AKA earn as much as you can)
Asian-American parents instill in their children to work hard at every endeavor they pursue. That’s the only way to better yourself and be better at something than everyone else. When you’re young, that means getting top grades in school. When I worked in an elementary school with primarily Asian-American children and staff, I saw that their parents and teachers were very firm with them. They had no problem telling the children that they were lazy and needed to work harder.
When you’re an adult, that means continuing to work harder than everyone else to get ahead. If your work requires additional hours of you, then you do them. If you’re offered overtime, then you take it. Hard work means more chances of succeeding, whether that be a job promotion or earning more money.
And then save, save, and save some more
Asian-Americans put a huge emphasis on saving money. Save like there’s no tomorrow because you want financial stability, ability to pay for the things you want when you want them, and no debt. Many people still believe in paying for things in cash. They may have credit cards, but they are able to pay them off fully without going into debt. Debt is a huge unwanted burden.
In order to save, Asian-Americans like my parents, my friends, and their parents lived frugally. Frugal living was common and accepted. That didn’t mean that we missed out on treats or bought everything cheap, but we were expected to spend wisely in order to save as much as possible. Choose generic alternatives to name brands. Eat home-cooked meals instead of eating out at restaurants. Shop at ethnic markets and discount stores that provide better prices than mainstream supermarkets. Reuse household goods until they are broken or unusable. Then repurpose them if you can. Eat leftovers and don’t waste food. We lived frugally. It wasn't trendy or a phase; it was our way of life.
A few other thoughts
I decided to write about Asian-American values in celebration of Chinese New Year, and because I see very little about Asian-American living among mainstream media and in the blogosphere. Given that Asian-Americans make up less than 6% of the US population, it’s not a surprise. So with this blog, I wanted to bring attention to Chinese New Year and my personal experience with Asian-American financial and family values.
Finally, this is the Year of the Dog. Your zodiac animal is a dog if you were born in the years 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, or 2006. Each zodiac animal has its own personality traits. The dog is considered loyal, honest, and friendly. The dog is also stubborn and less communicative socially. Is this you? If you’re born in the Year of the Dog, I’m excited for you. The Year of the Dog occurs only once every twelve years so enjoy your special year.
Whether you were born in the year of the dog or not, I hope you have a great week and year ahead. Happy Chinese New Year!