You're angry too, you just don't know it yet!

Guest Post by Lela Lee

Hey, folks! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed blog break. Time to recharge some batteries. But don't worry -- I've enlisted the generous help of some great guest bloggers to keep things fresh around here while I'm away. Here's Lela Lee, aka Angry Little Asian Girl, with some thoughts on being angry.

Hey everyone! Happy summer. I am honored to be a guest blogger this week. Phil and I are kindred spirits in that we are both angry Asian people. And lest you wonder, I am older and was angry first, but it doesn't really matter, as we need more Asians to realize that they too are angry.

Why am I angry? First off, for those who don't know me, I draw the comic strip "Angry Little Girls" which started with the original character "Angry Little Asian Girl." I created ALAG in video form in 1994 while I was an angry college student. Why was I angry? I was angry partly because my Korean parents were so frickin' strict and adhered to weird country rules about listening to the eldest even if the eldest was lying and making shit up. I was the youngest of four girls and sisters/girls/siblings can be mean.

Every day when my parents came home from a long day at the dry cleaners, my eldest sister would lead the charge of something I did wrong (which was a lie) with my other sisters following her lead. Then my parents would just get mad and inflict Korean corporal punishment on me, without listening to me plead that they were lying. This happened for years. Couple that with my white neighborhood and kids at school who loved to tease me for looking different and the weird food I ate. And then the Catholic all-girls high school I attended where I learned to be lady-like and polite, well, I was a bottled up cauldron of anger.

So when I got to college at UC Berkeley, (which finally made my mother like me) I was away from all those influences but I still could not shake those influences and experiences. I unleashed my bottled up anger in a little short video called "Angry Little Asian Girl, the First Day of School." After I made it, I hid the video because I was embarrassed by it. I wanted people to think I was a nice girl. But that's exactly the issue, why was that important to me? Is that an Asian thing to be a "nice girl"?

I recently went to a therapist who said that the children of first wave Koreans, (Koreans who came after immigration laws changed in 1965) worked hard and long. And their children, usually suffered as a result. A lot of the kids were abused, neglected or both. The kids were made to work in the shops that their parents bought. I was one of them. My sisters were not treated well either, but they got better treatment than me. I was the scapegoat, the one who got all the anguish, frustration, and jealousy. I guess this pain was my fate as it led me on the path to becoming an artist...

What helped me realize and give expression to this pain, is my "Angry Little Asian Girl." I let her out in 1994. I hid her, and then brought her out again in 1997. When I shared her with others, I realized I had hit a nerve. There were more like me who couldn't talk about what made us so angry. It's really an Asian thing to "turn the other cheek" and to keep quiet and never speak of bad of your family and parents. But I don't think that makes for very happy lives.

Now, don't misunderstand what I'm saying. (Especially to the traditional Koreans who will give me backlash for being an outspoken female.) I'm not saying happiness should be selfishness above your parents. Immigrant parents deserve respect for creating a life in a country they did not know. It was hard for them too, really hard. But the kids suffered too. And we should really think about why are we bottling this anger up. Anger needs to go somewhere besides holding it in our bodies or else we will get sick and suffer in relationships. We need to release it. We are here because our parents worked so hard, but the shackles of our difficult childhoods, we need to take those off. And we can only take them off once we realize that we actually have them. (Or is it a Korean trait to always have "han", the angst that is a common description of a Korean's beaten spirit? Goodness, I hope not.)

I've been trying to unravel this layer by layer, like an onion, for over a decade. And just when I thought I was done, I find myself in a legal struggle that reminds me of my dysfunctional Korean family. It's a long story, and I'll tell you in another blog when I get out the other side. All I know is, I really want to release this anger and be happy and get into healthy business relationships, and friendships, etc. So I delve yet again into therapy so that I can uncover and release more of my pain. And luckily, I have my comic strip to do that with too.

I think this is my journey in life. My journey is to help people see their anger as a positive thing. When I draw a comic, I draw something that is angering and then find the kernel of the truth. I expose that truth to get a laugh. And when we laugh at it and share that truth with others, it's not so scary and you're not so alone anymore.

But for people out there that should be angry and are not, or are afraid of it, there's nothing more freeing than owning your anger. Because once you do, you get to look at it, be angry about the injustice and mourn for the happy you that could have been. And then with time, you release it and it doesn't hijack your life anymore. But the first thing you gotta do is, you gotta be angry!

Best of luck everyone!
And wish me luck too!


P.S. This is probably going to ignite some Asians who say I am disrespecting my parents by being angry. But all I can say is, this has been my experience and my whole adult life has been spent trying to make sense of my difficult experience. I owe a lot to my parents for working hard and affording me a college education. We "made it." But underneath the surface of that vision of "making it," a price was paid. My mother, sisters and I have had a strained relationship that is civil now. We had our time of reckoning. Now we are okay. But I'm sorry to the Asians who think I should be quiet and not say anything, because that's not what I'm about. I think there are more people like me out there. And by me saying something, I think that only helps.

Lela Lee is a cartoonist, actress and happily married mom of 2 young boys. She has turned her bad habit of stewing on angering things that happen to her and other people into a job she feels grateful to have found.

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