It was after midnight when my girlfriend Margie posted her prom picture on Facebook. The comments came promptly, “Major hotness! Oh, Margie looks good too.” (Her prom date, obviously, still enjoying his white tuxedo and sky blue ruffled shirt.)

Then Margie put out a call for all her friends to post their old prom pictures.


She was intrigued. What was the story here?

No story. Just, no.

My memory involuntarily flashed to my junior prom photo—my long-sleeved pink and lace Gunne Sax dress my mother made, my lanky prom date’s maroon tuxedo, the replacement boutonniere (free with his tuxedo) that he retrieved from his car when the one my mother made broke, that classic prom pose in front of the photographer. Oh, and we cannot forget the hair!

I do not need a photo to remember all that teenage awkwardness.

As the child of immigrants, it was hard enough for me to figure out how things worked, what one was supposed to do, then explain it to my parents in a way that they would agree. Growing up, I relied heavily on reading the instructions for how things were “supposed” to be done. For example, I read the instructions on the shampoo bottle every day: Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I actually listened to the flight attendants’ safety instructions about the oxygen mask. I finally conquered my anxiety over western table manners by studying Miss Manners’ Basic Training: Eating.

I felt like such a barbarian whenever my ignorance or uncouthness was found out, whether it was driving the wrong way into a gas station (because there were no directional signs posted), not putting pennies in my penny loafers, or misidentifying Manjusri as Bhairav. Dork. So many social protocols are unstated.

I remember how confused I felt when I found out afterwards that others had done things very differently. The rich girls at my high school had their hair done in salons, rented limos, stayed out until dawn, drank champagne. You can do that? My hands were full just figuring out how to paint the fingernails on my right hand.

So I am always pleased to see young Asian Americans (who are so much cooler than I will ever be) figuring things out their own way, not being constrained by the way things have always been done, creatively constructing something new. Why depend on a school photographer when you could have a talented friend take your prom pictures for you? Then Photoshop an explosion into the background? Now that is a prom photo worthy of showing my friend, Angry Asian Man.

This is a different time we are in, with all this technology, all these new protocols to figure out as we go along. I Skype with my mother, Facetime with my college-bound daughter M, Facebook chat with my high schooler Hao Hao, Google chat with my brother who works at Google, get stalked by my nemesis on Twitter. Even though I work online and feel pretty competent in the virtual world, my mother still had a YouTube account before I did. I will always be awkward.

So I am glad for the chance to revisit some things annually, see how far I have come. When I run into my friends’ children dressed up with dates at fancy restaurants downtown, I recall the prom. When out-of-town parents drive slow and university students come downtown in caps and gowns, I remember graduation. When anxious first grade parents show up en masse at school, they must be chaperoning the annual first grade field trip to the Toledo Zoo.