Half Like Mother
By Mia Dedear
For most kids, Saturday mornings meant birthday parties and playdates. For me, Saturday mornings were spent in Chinese dance class, stretching, kicking, leaping into the early hours of the afternoon. The studio was run with traditionally strict standards by the woman who single-handedly instructed the entire academy. A five-foot-tall icon of domination, Yeh Lao-Shi held each student to an ambitious standard that nobody was exempt from—especially me, because Yeh Lao-Shi also happened to be my mother.
“You probably dance at your mom’s school, right?” people would guess. “Like mother, like daughter.” The girls in my dance class approached me with hushed questions steeped in curiosity: “Is your mom a tiger mother at home?” “Does your mom make you practice dance inside your house?” And, of course, my personal favorite: “Does your mom, like… cook dinner?” The girls would giggle over the image of Yeh Lao-Shi, in full ballet attire, standing at the stove, stirring the mysterious contents of a cauldron. But the truth was, my mother wasn’t anything close to a tiger mom. She never forced me to practice extra and, actually, she can grill up some steaks that are out of this world.
As the girls in my class imagined the domestic duties of my mother, their parents marveled over my father, a lifelong Texan who could wrangle my hair into decent pigtails and speak fluent Mandarin. Our entire family seemed to be the subject of intrigue and curiosity. How strange we must’ve looked to our Texan community of ethnically homogeneous families.
“Which one is yours”? People would ask my mom as they scanned the group of young Chinese dancers. “Guess,” my mother would reply. “Her?” they’d speculate, pointing at whichever girl they thought looked most similar to my mother. Nobody ever got it right on the first try. “Her?” “No, not her, either.” Actually, nobody ever got it right at all. It was kind of funny. Out of all the girls who danced with my mother, I looked the least like her.
Lined up next to one another in our black leotards and pink tights, the girls in my class all looked relatively similar: except for me. Me, with the wiry halo of frizzy hair framing the edge of my face. Me, with skin so pale it almost looked blue in comparison to the caramel complexions of the other girls. Me, with hair dark enough and nose small enough not to be Caucasian, but ponytail too curly and eyes too big to really be Chinese.
But what I had in common with them—what we all had in common with each other—was that we were all young Asian-American girls growing up in Austin, Texas. So, of course someone was going to be mixed-race; of course someone was going to be adopted; of course someone was going to be a first-generation immigrant. Being Chinese-American didn’t mean that we all had the same background. But being students of traditional Chinese dance meant that we were all in pursuit of honoring our heritage, whatever that happened to be.
At home, I sat around the dinner table with my parents, who had grown up on opposite hemispheres and crossed oceans to create this Texan-Taiwanese household. And even though none of us physically looked alike, the inheritances that ran deeper than skin were the ones that mattered most. From my parents, I inherited a love for both of my cultures, a love for dance, and a love for perfectly grilled steaks. I smiled around the table at each member of my family: my brother, my father, and Yeh Lao-Shi… I mean, my mom.
Mia Dedear is a dancer, actor, and writer, currently in her fourth year at the University of Texas, where she is double majoring in Theatre and Advertising. She recently appeared on the Chicago stage in '893 Yakuza' by Daria Miyeko Marinelli at the CAATA's ConFest in Chicago and spent the summer of 2018 as a company management intern at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Her goal as an actor and a writer is become a successful advocate for representation of Asian-American women in theatre and film.