We Are America

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Photo ofAimee Peng

When I was younger, I always thought I should become an architect for my dad or a pharmacist for my mom. I felt bad that they weren’t able to achieve their dreams because they didn’t have the money or the chance to go to school for it. I always thought that maybe I should fulfill that role for them.

Out of the two, I leaned more towards being an architect as it involved a little bit of art. As a kid, I would spend my time drawing for fun and I grew to enjoy it. So when we were asked to write down what our dreams were in elementary school, I would always put “architect”. That was my mindset. For a long time I was sure that was what I wanted to do and it even got me to practice sketching out architectural designs that I would see across the web or in magazines.

My older siblings had not gone to university, so for me, going to university was a goal of mine as well. I wanted to make my parents proud. After I entered high school, my parents would bring up the topic of college whenever they had the chance to, in the car or during dinner, and I’d say I’m going. For the longest time my mind was set on that.

But, as time went on, around the time I was 16, I started to question my dreams. Being an architect was only a childhood dream. “Become a doctor! Become an engineer!” My parents now said. I now felt pressured to choose one of these professions. 

It wasn’t until I had a discussion with my guidance counselor that I realized that I felt lost and confused. I didn’t know what to do. But I realized I didn’t want to spend years being either a doctor or an engineer. 

I realized I wanted to do something different than everyone else in the family and not necessarily what my parents wanted me to do. I had started watching peoples vlogs on youtube and saw that they were happy having a job that they enjoyed. I became inspired by this one tattoo artist that would share their daily life on youtube. As a kid, I would draw tattoos with a pen on my siblings and as I got older, I started designing tattoos and did little stick n’ poke tattoos. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to become a tattoo artist.

This was a long and hard decision. Tattoos are a taboo in my family and in many Asian families. Tattoos are almost “forbidden” for women. If men get tattoos, it is more often fine, they are free to openly show it. Women, however, are urged to hide it from the elders, like an octopus concealing themselves from predators. In my culture, people believe that a woman's body is sacred and shouldn’t be ruined with permanent ink. If women decide to get a tattoo many are faced with disappointment and seen as disobedient. Tattoos are seen as unprofessional and rebellious when we are expected to be polite, lady-like, and quiet. We, as Asian women, are seen differently once others see our tattoo. 

Despite knowing about the conflict between tattoos and my family, I am still going to make the choice to do what I realized I loved doing. My parents are still trying to persuade me to change my mind and we still have conversations about my career choice. Yet I don’t budge. If I’m being honest, the consequences that I will face later in life won’t faze me. One day, I want my parents to see my tattoo art and change their views on tattoos. Tattoos are a form of art, a way one gets to express themself. And I hope they will come to understand that I want to do something that I can enjoy.

© Aimee Peng . All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.