Why Can’t I Just Shut Up?

I have a problem. My internal filter doesn’t always work. Sometimes thoughts that aren’t fully formed but in the process of being “felt” come out of my thought bubble and rush through my mouth.

My parents did the best they could, teaching me to be appropriately silent first in the way children are supposed to be silent and then in the way young ladies are to be silent. Opinions are best left in the head, and simply naming my alma mater should be enough to gauge intelligence. Words, particularly spoken ones from my mouth, aren’t necessary. Besides, who would want their son to marry an outspoken, opinionated woman? Those traits aren’t high on the “myuh-new-ree” (daughter-in-law) list.

There are times when the properly trained Asian American woman-ness kicks into high gear, almost as if someone dialed me up to “11”. I can smile, nod, look like I am in agreement with whatever is being said and then walk away without a word. It happens, I swear.

My parents also knew enough to know that some things were irreversible. We were here in America, and one day (or almost 40 years) their firstborn would be an American. They struggled to keep the “Korean” first through language, dance, songs, food, worksheets and flashcards and hyphenated “America” by reminding me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or is the oil?

I suppose that is part of growing up part of a generation raised to be bicultural – Korean and American – and finds itself developing a third culture – with or without the hyphen – that takes not the best of both worlds and rejects the rest but takes both worlds and creates something both familiar and new with its own best and rejects.

So there are times when I get squeaky. The dial gets turned the other way, and I can’t shut up. The raging extrovert in me, the angry Asian American woman who is tired but clearly not tired enough to shut up comes out and I hate when that happens because I hate that I feel like I should apologize for bringing to the conversation a different voice, a different perspective.

I can talk about things other than race, gender or class. It’s not always about race or gender or class. But many times race or gender or class (or all of the above) are in play. And the other night it was soooo easy. We were discussing The Help
, and there are still hours of thoughts and questions inside my head. Last night was just a taste. Why couldn’t we have started out with something lighter like a Nicholas Sparks book? Bahhhh!

No spoiler alert here for those of you who are still on the library’s list for the book or in the process of reading it. You know that the book touches on issues of race, gender, class, friendship and love. And if you read this blog you know that those issues are what keep us here in this cyberspace.

But those issues are uncomfortable, and it’s not always easy to go from discussing our feelings about a book to how those feelings translate into real life when it’s all so new and we don’t yet know our similarities let alone our differences. But how could I not talk about how I see life in our town as being different but not so entirely different than what we had just read? How could I not bring up how the rules of engagement between the junior league women and their help are as subtle and dangerous as describing “suspicious” cars and their drivers in broad generalities? Don’t we still have subtle lines drawn and communicated about who belongs where? How could any of us read the book and not choose to be uncomfortable if not for one night?


  1. Tracy April 16, 2010

    I’m with your on all of those, I can also relate on the culture and racial differences, having lived in a number of different countries and places. thanks for sharing!


  2. dancingirja April 16, 2010

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve grown up with an Asian mother and European father. The “appropriately silent” among others, I know. I guess a lot of women do in general.

  3. John April 16, 2010

    I loved this! My dad is American (Irish) and my mom is Korean (from Busan). Growing up for me was pretty different, too.

  4. Harriet April 16, 2010

    What great thoughts!
    I am a 61 year old white woman who has seen the injustices, and still sees them.
    Some of them nuanced and some of them not.
    I don’t keep quiet and my filters have not been in place for some years now.
    Thank you so much!


  5. Lia April 16, 2010

    Of all the weird things… I just stumbled across your blog. I finished The Help last week and found it touching, fantastic, and horrifyingly accurate of the complexities of friendship and abuse of power. The intersection of love and oppression is really interesting, and we all play a powerful role in that, regardless of our color. If we are not the oppressed, we are the oppressor.
    I am a social worker, and in graduate school. I think these conversation are SO vital for us to have. It’s interesting how many of us are thinking the same things at the same time…..

    • Kathy Khang April 18, 2010

      Glad our lives as readers and learners intersected when they did!

      And yes, if we are not one we are the other…and sometimes both at the same time.

  6. Author Becky Due April 16, 2010

    Keep Talking!

  7. Remain.Simple April 16, 2010

    Good: you don’t lie as much to people, you become more trustworthy.
    Bad: Loudmouth, you tell people things that shouldn’t be told. Gets people mad at you, but they expect you to tell people anyways.

    Solution, don’t say everything u think because there may be some consequences especially in the workplace. But productivity is very important as well.

    Thats my view on this.

  8. Pat Foster April 16, 2010

    My late mother was right about many things. However, she always tried to teach me “the quacking duck gets shot”. I cannot agree that it is always best to stay silent.

    • Kathy Khang April 18, 2010

      Never heard the one about the duck, but I’ll be sure to use that sometime in the future! Keep quacking!

  9. Rod April 16, 2010

    You’re just fine. I like talkative people. They let others know what’s in their mind that’s what it is.

    If there something nasty said about talkative people, it is not with them. It’s the others who did not like reality – what they heard.

  10. dyosaimma April 16, 2010

    Good thing I finished my work early and I had time to browse through other WordPress blogs. I love your entries! I agree with Author Becky Due: keep talking! 🙂

  11. Kris April 17, 2010

    May be a cultural difference as well- as in some countries it is admired to speak your mind! Go for it girl, don’t hide! You are who you are…

  12. ram April 17, 2010

    Nice post.

    Cultural difference insight thought is cool but adaption to newer environment is always necessary


  13. billthecarguy April 17, 2010

    WOW –

    “I have a problem. My internal filter doesn’t always work. Sometimes thoughts that aren’t fully formed but in the process of being “felt” come out of my thought bubble and rush through my mouth.”

    Great post. Very relevant. I wish I could send it to some people I know but it would create WWIII.

  14. Meesch April 17, 2010

    Please don’t ever shut up, Kathy! You are refreshing and truth-telling. I need your voice as a European-American woman as much as the Korean and Korean-American (and, let’s be honest, the world) needs it. That’s why Jesus gave it to you! Besides, my Korean-American friend frequently tells me that Korean women like you and his mom are known for their fiesty-ness….I love that! And, I genuinely appreciate you and your particular extroversion. =)

  15. […] Why Can’t I Just Shut Up? from More Than Serving Tea – This post talks about the pain of speaking before thinking.  I visit this pain daily myself. […]

  16. mark April 17, 2010

    Filters? You got filters? I so know what you mean. Though I believe that we need to explore our thoughts & throw them out there. I’ve lost a friend or two, yeah thats the cost. Some have come back, some never will. The thing is here in America we can say what we want, but how we say it is another matter. My mother is Sicilian born…, my father Scotch/Irish that to is bicultural. Does that really matter? I’m a bad speller and I write does that make me a bad writer? or do I not have class? We need to tare apart those norms that prior cultures have created to control the thoughts of people. Look at some of the great writers, who crossed the contemporary lines (Mark Twane)… It was those thoughts expressed that did more than entertain. They make the thinking minds take notice.

    If my spelling offends you I’m not so sorry, but you can tell me about it.

  17. codebreaker8086 April 17, 2010

    nice blog

  18. Lillith Kane April 17, 2010

    I’m not an Asian-American, but I can definitely appreciate your lack of filter, or as I like to call it – a brain.

    Find a group who isn’t interested in the superficial. I would have loved to be in a group with you when you went off about your experiences and ideals.

    Passion is much more interesting and enlightening than anything happy and picturesque. Life isn’t that way, so why pretend?

    Great post!

  19. Becky April 17, 2010

    Please don’t shut up.

  20. itzexodus April 17, 2010

    I’m a quiet person, but I feel as if sometimes people talk too little about what matters. And when they do manage to talk alot, it seems to be about superficial things or something that will not matter in the long run.

    I hate saying the wrong things at the wrong times, but sometimes it’s necessary because I view a lot of people need to wake up. I view that people like you are the people to do so.

  21. Nirmik April 18, 2010

    I love it around

  22. theaveragepoet April 18, 2010

    Great post! I can identify with certain things, being a Filipino-American (Father – American, Mother – Filipino). It was hard to be outspoken where I lived. There were hardly any Filipinos at my school, let alone tan people in general. My brother and I had to develop tough skin to get through the jokes and taunts when we were younger. Eventually, we would rally back but now -being a 20 year old college student- I still face certain questions like “Where ya from?” or “What are you?” I always answer the first with my new hometown and “Human, sir/ma’am” to the second question. 😀

    Keep being outspoken! Fight the good fight!

    • Kathy Khang April 18, 2010

      Love your answer to the question “What are you?”! I’ll try that next time and see what kind of response I get…or maybe I’ll answer it with, “Unfiltered”. 😉

  23. Avenue L April 18, 2010

    Even in “multicultural cities,” racism/prejudice is still rampant, even worse in some ways than places where diversity is far and few between. “Cosmopolitan” people just assume that by virtue of the fact they’re surrounded by people of various backgrounds, that they’re not racist or prejudice, despite the things they say. And even though they’re “joking,” you know they believe a kernel of truth in what they say.

    It also makes being a [Whatever]-American so much more difficult because people identify you as [whatever], despite growing up in North America and you feeling more westernised than anything else. I don’t know what would be more frustrating in terms of identity… being bi-racial and simply explain that you’re of two races, or explaining every time that though you are a certain race, your culture is not of that race…

  24. mindmarriedman April 18, 2010

    Great post


  25. peregrinefalco April 18, 2010

    I think us second-generation children always face the same issues no matter where our mother-land was and our home is…You have made some great points that I totally agree with..thanks for sharing your piece of extrovert thoughts with the rest of us…

  26. Hsiao-Ling Dawson April 18, 2010

    Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for sharing your experience here!! I was born, and grew up in Taiwan, came to the United States 14 yrs ago for graduated school. Even though I am not so call “Asian-American”, the experience of “…bicultural… – and finds itself developing a third culture – with or without the hyphen – that takes not the best of both worlds and rejects the rest but takes both worlds and creates something both familiar and new with its own best and rejects” is so real for me. I married to an American, and I sometimes wonder how other people would see me–as an Asian? as an American? or as an Asian-American? Or, how about just as a human being, period? What if we relate to each other as human being, instead of races, classes, positions, roles….? We all want to be heard, respected, loved, honored, known regardless of where you come from, color of your skin, or who you are, isn’t it?

    By the way, I came across your blog through wordpress home page. I am glad I took my time to read your blog!!

  27. Jim Hagen April 18, 2010

    I used to think that the only hope for the human race was more mixed marriages because I thought that would break down barriers, etc. But that won’t happen if the children of those marriages insist of seeing themselves as victims. Stop complaining and show people that it doesn’t matter.

    • Kathy Khang April 18, 2010

      Jim, I beg your pardon? Who are you telling to “Stop complaining and show people that it doesn’t matter”? Victim? What are you talking about?

  28. 2gabbygals April 19, 2010

    I feel the same way. There is a constant struggle between my Asian-ness and my assimulated American ways. Now that I have a son, I hope it will be different, but I highly doubt that.

  29. unforgivens May 18, 2010

    I found your site from the WordPress.com page which has several sites that are strong enough to make the page.

    Your site is wonderful and beautiful.

  30. Vali October 2, 2014

    Nobody would like that kind of a woman? I have, again, the proof that I am Nobody 😀


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