Book Reviews and Highlights

Dear Girls

Ali Wong

  • Biography & Autobiography
  • Entertainment & Performing Arts
  • Essays
  • Family & Relationships
  • Form
  • Humor
  • Motherhood
  • Parenting
  • Dear Girls, Your dad is the (if we are divorced by the time you read this, please skip to the next sentence) best, but I didn’t just find him overnight.
  • Chapter 1: How I Trapped Your Father | Page: 3
  • #first-sentence
  • Paying for the first date sets a precedent that says, “I want to take care of you. I want to provide for you.” And no, I don’t expect a man to take care of me financially, but I want him to want to, to take the opportunity, to make the gesture of doing something nice and giving right away.
  • Chapter 1: How I Trapped Your Father | Page: 14
  • Asian women live forever, and having kids is like a 401( k) for companionship. When you two inevitably become widows for the second hundred years of your lives, you’re going to need some progeny to care about you and, most important, to owe you.
  • Chapter 2: The Miracle of Life | Page: 19
  • When you go through something as tragic as a miscarriage, the last thing you want is to feel like it was your fault. I didn’t want to share with anyone what had happened because I was scared they would think my body was fundamentally defective.
  • Chapter 2: The Miracle of Life | Page: 23
  • You have suffered enough. If you can make it easier, make it easier, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Chapter 2: The Miracle of Life | Page: 31
  • Babies are often born with fingernails so disturbingly long it made me wonder why nobody told me there had been a raccoon living inside my uterus.
  • Chapter 3: Tips on Giving Birth | Page: 35
  • Bring zip- up or Velcro swaddles to the hospital. Fuck learning how to swaddle by folding and tucking a blanket. It’s not the Middle Ages. You don’t need to be doing origami in the hospital.
  • Chapter 3: Tips on Giving Birth | Page: 37
  • What does Mrs. Jiro dream of? Freedom. Recognition. Divorce. I saw that movie and decided that I wasn’t gonna go out like that.
  • Chapter 4: Why I Went Back to Work | Page: 42
  • It’s scary in America to tell your employer that you’re pregnant. On the outside, they’ll generally smile and say things like “I’m so happy for you! Congrats!” But deep down, you know they’re thinking, “So now you can’t come in to work just because a man came inside you?! Congrats, I’m never hiring a woman ever again!”
  • Chapter 4: Why I Went Back to Work | Page: 43
  • If you ever have a boss, you need to find someone who will not snitch on you to fucking human resources when you get pregnant.
  • Chapter 4: Why I Went Back to Work | Page: 43
  • My parents trained me to always picture the worst- case scenario as some sort of immigrant survival tactic.
  • Chapter 4: Why I Went Back to Work | Page: 44
  • I was very motivated to make my own money because I signed a document specifically outlining how much I couldn’t depend on my husband. My father always praised “the gift of fear,” and that prenup scared the shit out of me.
  • Chapter 4: Why I Went Back to Work | Page: 45
  • Either way, I know what I have in common with stay- at- home moms: We are all just doing our best. And if it isn’t good enough for you, wait until you have kids and you’ll get it.
  • Chapter 4: Why I Went Back to Work | Page: 46
  • This was also one of my first jokes: “There’s a saying that people in New York have a lot of ambition and a lot of talent. And people in L.A. have a lot of ambition and no talent. And people who live in San Francisco go to Burning Man.”
  • Chapter 5: Hustle and Pho | Page: 53
  • From that day forward, I would go up every single night at a different mic and try a million new jokes. I mostly bombed. It’s the only way to get good.
  • Chapter 5: Hustle and Pho | Page: 54
  • As the youngest of four kids, I was always being observed by my siblings, who would judge my every decision. They had a set idea of who I was and it affected me. It was limiting.
  • Chapter 5: Hustle and Pho | Page: 61
  • “Baby girl, I’m his actual friend and even I don’t believe in him. Move to Silicon Valley, find yourself a nice engineer.” Comedy Girlfriend: “But engineers aren’t funny.” Me: “Trust me, if you lived in a mansion, you’d be laughing all the time.”
  • Chapter 5: Hustle and Pho | Page: 66
  • I get so annoyed at those resentful men for reducing any of my success to attention for being a woman, being Asian, or being pregnant. I struggled and hustled for so long. Plus, going on the road pregnant was not easy.
  • Chapter 5: Hustle and Pho | Page: 73
  • I once ordered a side of anchovies at a famous pizza place in New York and they charged me ten dollars. Ten dollars for anchovies, the pigeons of the sea!
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 79
  • I loved flagging down a woman riding a bicycle, with steaming orange, yellow, and green sticky rice on display behind her. And she’d repeat in a singsong tone what she was selling like a seductive siren from Greek mythology: “HOT STICKY SWEET RICE HOT STICKY SWEET RICE HOT STICKY SWEET RICE.”
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 80
  • Sorry to go on, but what I always miss about Vietnamese food from Vietnam is the wide diversity of noodle soups. Pho is kind of like the pad thai of Vietnamese food. It became the most desirable and commercial Vietnamese dish for mainstream America, because there’s nothing too scary about it.
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 81
  • At the time, there were no gyms in Vietnam. Old people did small movements in the park to corny- ass music but that’s not real exercise. That’s called not being dead.
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 82
  • That meant that I didn’t experience a lot of the envy Vietnamese had for the Vietnamese American girls who they thought were so lucky to be born and raised in the United States. Sometimes I think they called us fat to remind us that we were no better than them just for having more money and speaking English.
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 83
  • My mom sometimes forgets which of her siblings are still alive. I don’t know any Vietnamese person who doesn’t have an uncle with a gambling problem and an auntie that’s straight up greedy and evil.
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 93
  • And, because most Vietnamese people in the United States are from the south of Vietnam, they often found it difficult to understand my mom’s central accent. One Vietnamese man told me that listening to a Hue accent was the equivalent of someone saying “Shubba Shubba Shubba” in English when what they meant to say was “How much for extra tendon?”
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 94
  • While we were in Vietnam together, she explained that the country had a history of always being in wartime, so women were expected to rise to the occasion of making money for the family.
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 96
  • I also understood why my mom wasn’t into processing her feelings, and how she was taught to just get over tragedy. To survive, she had to believe things like depression and allergies were a choice. In a culture entrenched in wartime, those who chose to be unhappy or to refuse gluten didn’t last long.
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 96
  • My mom is from Hue, a central part of Vietnam, and I got to meet a lot of her cousins who still live there. Growing up in such a small town, my mom came from this culture of extreme gossip.
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 96
  • I max out when Grandma stays more than four nights. I know she seems nice, but she insists on microwaving a bowl of leftovers covered in plastic wrap when I have told her a thousand times that plastic is gonna melt and kill us!
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 97
  • Studying in a developing/ third- world country is way more intense and formative than studying in a first- world fancy country. It makes you so much more open- minded, adaptive, and confident. You become so much more real. When you have to shit on two little bricks into a hole the size of a tennis ball at an elementary school in the countryside, or sleep in a farmer’s yurt after not bathing for five days, you become a much more easygoing person. It teaches you to value experience over material things real fast.
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 101
  • I had stayed with Auntie Nga in Vietnam for a couple of months after the semester abroad ended and learned very quickly that I wouldn’t want to live there forever. I got worn down by the constant negotiation. The bargaining. Sometimes a bundle of cilantro costs an entire dollar and that’s okay!
  • Chapter 6: Snake Heart | Page: 101
  • But a true feminist husband doesn’t see a woman’s money, power, and/ or respect as a reflection of his own lack of success. A true feminist husband embraces his wife’s ability to provide by celebrating her and stepping up.
  • Chapter 8: Mr. Wong | Page: 121
  • Being a woman’s biggest cheerleader means breaking out of the tit for tat mentality when it comes to tasks. It’s not just saying “Yay YOU!” It’s taking out the trash, signing up the kids for after- school activities, packing lunch for the kids, taking them to the doctor when necessary, always making sure the minivan is full of gas, waiting at home for the exterminator, paying bills.
  • Chapter 8: Mr. Wong | Page: 121
  • Women are not expected to live a life for themselves. When women dedicate their lives to children, it is deemed a worthy and respectable choice. When women dedicate themselves to a passion outside of the family that doesn’t involve worshipping their husbands or taking care of their kids, they’re seen as selfish, cold, or unfit mothers.
  • Chapter 8: Mr. Wong | Page: 122
  • But when a man dedicates himself to taking care of his children it’s seen as a last resort. That it must be because he ran out of other options. That it’s plan Z. That it’s an indicator of his inability to provide for his family. Basically, that he’s a fucking loser. I think it’s one of the most important falsehoods we need to shatter when talking about women’s rights.
  • Chapter 8: Mr. Wong | Page: 122
  • We go to couple’s therapy every Friday morning at nine A.M. because it’s cheaper than a divorce. There’s always something for us to talk about.
  • Chapter 8: Mr. Wong | Page: 123
  • Because motherhood is disgusting, you spend so much energy cleaning up that you’re left with no time for yourself. So I gave in to TV pretty fast.
  • Chapter 10: Bringing Up Bébés | Page: 137
  • I don’t want you to grow up wishing you were white and having that inform all of your decisions later on in life. I want you to be proud of having black hair and Asian features.
  • Chapter 10: Bringing Up Bébés | Page: 137
  • It made me realize that the most important part of parenting, relationships, pretty much anything— is just actually being there.
  • Chapter 10: Bringing Up Bébés | Page: 139
  • My mom was never the type to write me long letters or birthday cards. We never got mani- pedis together, she never gave me a locket with our picture in it. She wouldn’t tell me I looked beautiful, help me shop for prom, or soothe me when a boy broke my heart. But she was there. She kept me safe. She did her best to make me tough. She fed me the most delicious home- cooked meals.
  • Chapter 10: Bringing Up Bébés | Page: 140
  • It was tradition for the third- graders to participate in the annual California Pageant, an exciting evening where we didn’t have to wear our green uniform jumpers over white blouses. Students dressed up as important historical California figures and gave a small speech about their legacies. But since history is written by men, most important historical figures are men, and a lot of us little girls had to play men.
  • Chapter 11: Uncle Andrew | Page: 141
  • Looking back, I’m grateful that the one son in my family was not aspirational. It really freed me to do whatever I wanted. He didn’t trap me into any sort of success paradigm; whatever expectations that had existed crumbled long before I was born and that allowed me to make my own way.
  • Chapter 11: Uncle Andrew | Page: 146
  • My siblings taught me that you could recover from failure. Julia was always so good at everything. She was great at piano, painting, and academia. She got into Harvard Law School and my mother told everyone and their mothers. But then Julia dropped out her first year.
  • Chapter 11: Uncle Andrew | Page: 147
  • Your father’s theory is that Andrew became possessed by the spirit of a poor, old Chinese man who has not left his body since.
  • Chapter 11: Uncle Andrew | Page: 149
  • All of a sudden, he’d inherited the extreme immigrant paranoia that everyone is out to get you.
  • Chapter 11: Uncle Andrew | Page: 149
  • How do you overcome failure? How do you write a good joke? How do you learn to live life on the road? How do you choose who to collaborate with? How do you stay safe?
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 156
  • The answers to making it, to me, are a lot more universal than anyone’s race or gender, and center on having a tolerance for delayed gratification, a passion for the craft, and a willingness to fail.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 156
  • was lucky enough to grow up in San Francisco. It’s a beautiful city with a fantastic bridge. It’s also full of Asian people.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 158
  • And I went to UCLA, which is also known as the University of Caucasians Lost Among Asians.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 158
  • I straight up refuse to go to a restaurant if it’s not well reviewed on Yelp. Then again, if our relatives had been able to Yelp America before coming over, they might have thought twice. Those reviews would have been mixed: “The opportunity is on point, but they kind of overdo it with the institutional racism and the guns. 3 stars.”
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 160
  • he’d definitely have the opposite opinion of all those jealous- ass white male comedians who say things like “People only like your comedy because you’re female and a minority.” My grandpa would be like, “I can’t believe people like your comedy! You’re a female and a minority!”
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 161
  • And remembering where I came from, and who I came from, has always humbled me and been a constant source of motivation.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 161
  • One Asian value that I’m grateful was passed down to me is knowing how to save money. Immigrants are shocked by how expensive everything is when they arrive in this country— Wait, this bowl of pho costs over fifty cents?
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 162
  • Another instrumental Asian value is bluntness. My parents always found a way of saying things that you weren’t supposed to. It used to embarrass me, but like the cheapness, now I’m so grateful for it.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 164
  • But now, I love that my family taught me how to be refreshingly rude and honest. It also toughened me up and prepared me for bombing and criticism, because I had been humorlessly roasted by my family my whole life.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 165
  • People like to praise Asian Americans as the model minority for their strong work ethic and good behavior. My Vietnamese mother did not give me either. But she made me cheap, tough, and salty, like a steak from Sizzler.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 165
  • The other question young people always ask me is: “What advice do you have for a person like me, an Asian American woman wanting to get into Hollywood?”
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 167
  • Here it is: Let go of seeing yourself as nothing more than an Asian American woman. Ask yourself who you are outside of that. Challenge yourself to get out of the community. Don’t just drink boba, do your laundry at home, take pictures of food, go outlet shopping, and talk exclusively to other Asian Americans. Even if you end up doing something totally unrelated to entertainment, I want you to take this advice, because I want you to become interesting, confident, and cultured women.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 167
  • My last piece of advice would be to focus not on the result, but instead, the process and the journey. Again, Asian people love predictable outcomes. But to succeed in a creative profession, you really need to love it. And if you love it and are great at it, and passionate about constantly becoming better at it, you will find success no matter what.
  • Chapter 12: My Least Favorite Question | Page: 170
  • Dear Girls, At weddings, I cry whenever a bride walks down the aisle, even if I don’t know her that well. I cry for her because I can tell it’s the first time she’s had that many people look at her and watch her all at once.
  • Chapter 13: Bridin’ Dirty | Page: 171
  • There’s enough event planning I have to do in my professional life, and I wanted to make the wedding as simple as possible. So I went on the SF.GOV website and paid the fifteen- dollar registration fee to get married at city hall. It was very important that it was in San Francisco, where all of the Wongs live. None of my family had to get on an airplane. We didn’t have to pay for any decor because we already paid for the city hall decor with our tax dollars. It’s hard to beat the combination of consideration and value in one event.
  • Chapter 13: Bridin’ Dirty | Page: 172
  • Chinese people believe a wedding should be a profitable venture to favorably position the newly married couple for the journey ahead. A Western wedding that serves Western food typically costs at least a hundred dollars per person. Yes, the Western model is a buffet of photo opportunities, but leads to heavy spending and debt that could otherwise be spent on a house, one day of preschool, or a cool Japanese toilet that cleans itself.
  • Chapter 13: Bridin’ Dirty | Page: 174
  • Our banquet cost thirty dollars per person. Vietnamese people do the Chinese banquet even though they’re Vietnamese because they cannot resist the great deal.
  • Chapter 13: Bridin’ Dirty | Page: 174
  • I know it seems like mani- pedis are laced into Vietnamese women’s DNA. Vietnamese American people are really good at doing black and white women’s nails. But it’s not really part of Vietnamese culture to get our own nails done.
  • Chapter 14: Wild Child | Page: 189
  • For International Day at my school, I decided in sixth grade to dress up in my mom’s old áo dài, that traditional Vietnamese silk dress that has a collar, long sleeves, and is worn with pants.
  • Chapter 14: Wild Child | Page: 195
  • I promise things get way better after your teenage years. I look forward to us being adults together. I can’t think that far ahead, and I know things never turn out how you think they will, but I’m hopeful.
  • Chapter 14: Wild Child | Page: 195
  • #last-sentence
  • Thanks to your brilliant lola, we were also fed a steady diet of traditional food from Capiz, Philippines, home of the folkloric vampire- like spirit known as “aswang.”
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 198
  • We were free to carve our own paths as individuals, a drive and passion I later recognized in your mother when we first met.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 199
  • I remember walking down the street as a family when I was around eight years old and two white teenagers started saying “ching, chang, chong” as they passed us.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 199
  • This is why I buy you Asian Barbie dolls and children’s books with faces that look like yours: because I want you to grow up immersed in role models that look familiar, so that you too can be inspired and live in a world of creative possibilities.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 199
  • Famous parents are part of the family, but they are also part of a much wider tapestry of relationships made up of the people they impact. We have to share them.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 200
  • Because someone needs to ground a family when fame is so intoxicating. I learned how to navigate the limelight of your mother’s fame from growing up in my house where your lola was the grounding force.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 201
  • I immersed myself in practices like meditation, journaling, fasting, and entheogenic ceremonies, not realizing that my interest in mindfulness and self- exploration would, over time, help me find my own way in life, individuated from your grandfather’s success. I was also unknowingly preparing myself to be the subject of your mother’s future jokes.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 201
  • Being in a relationship will inevitably offer up uncertainty, risk, and challenges. Find someone who is willing and able to come up with creative solutions as issues arise and take leaps for you when called for.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 205
  • And because we didn’t need the money, I chose to support our family by offering my time, care, and presence, forcing me to reconcile my prescribed gender roles, which wasn’t always easy.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 209
  • Allowing your mother to publicly poke fun at what was a sensitive spot for me was scary at first. But over time I realized that the jokes enabled me to better see the expectations I placed on myself that didn’t match our reality and therefore weren’t helpful to me, or us, to continue to bear.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 209
  • Therein lies the potent, challenging gift afforded to us brave, lucky few, fortunate enough to be roasted onstage night after night by your mother: that of self- realization through comedic ego destruction.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 209
  • Your mother showed me with her comedy how to let go of who I thought I had to be and allowed me to embrace a life rooted in my love for you girls.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 209
  • My newfound freedom enabled me to work more closely with her and gave me the space to rediscover the limits of my own creative possibility, allowing me to ask the privileged question: What do I truly want to do with my one life?
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 210
  • What’s important for you girls is to work with the pressure washer that is your mother’s comedy to find greater personal clarity for yourselves and home in on who you are versus who you think you need to be.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 211
  • As both of you are increasingly characters in her comedic narrative I encourage you to set your own boundaries, and to also remember that being a subject on her stage enables people to be seen, heard, validated, and empowered.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 211
  • Grandpa Ken from Kamakura, land of murasaki imo, purple sweet potato soft- serve. Lola from Capiz, land of inubaran, a stew of chicken and banana tree pith. Grandpa Wong from San Francisco, home of chizi lianggua banqiu, bitter melon and rock cod fillet. Grandma Wong from Hue, home of bún bò Huề, spicy noodle soup with pig’s feet, blood squares, sliced beef, and herbs. And your mother and me from the United States, land of baggy MC Hammer pants and Marvin Gaye.
  • Afterword by Justin Hakuta | Page: 213