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The Journey Of A Beautiful Butterfly

With Darlene Wendy Wong

Darlene Wendy Wong’s life is like the journey of a beautiful butterfly. Her career in the financial services industry spans nearly twenty years in the area of data management and analytics, strategic analysis and marketing analysis. She has worked for Providian Bank, Charles Schwab Corporation, and recently reached her five-year work anniversary at Bank of the West as a data analyst. From the outside, her life looks picture-perfect, but Darlene shares growing up in her household was pure survival. Growing up in a very traditional Chinese culture, she had to deeply suppress her real self and mute her true voice and preferences. However, that upbringing actually formed the core of who she is, which is of tenacity, patience, self-expression, and the constant pursuit of empowerment, to be able to step outside and have a global view of things.

In an Asian family, whether you are an immigrant, the first or the second generation of Asian, if you don’t stand up for your values and beliefs, if you don’t speak your mind and if you continue following the old traditions and superstition without questioning the merit of those practice or beliefs, you will remain trapped and confined in a mold of a typical Asian woman. That’s not the case with our guest, Darlene Wendy Wong.

Darlene Wong currently resides in San Ramon, California and is a San Francisco native who is a widow, single mother of a sixteen-year-old son and a twelve-year-old daughter. She was raised with four brothers by parents who immigrated from China during World War II. Her career in the financial services industry spans nearly twenty years in the area of data management and analytics, strategic analysis, and marketing analysis. She has worked for Providian Bank, Charles Schwab Corporation, and reached her five-year work anniversary at Bank of the West as a data analyst.

She took twelve years to raise her two children as a full-time mother before returning to work in 2013. Darlene earned her bachelor’s degree at the San Francisco State University and is a graduate of the Landmark Program. Darlene enjoys exercising, reading, cooking, baking, and spending time along the Monterey coast, going to parks and beach with her kids, attending concerts, and spending time with her fiancé.

Darlene Wendy Wong – The Journey Of A Beautiful Butterfly

Welcome, Darlene Wong, to our show.

Thank you for having me.

Darlene, please share with us your story, your ethnicity, who or what has shaped you to become the person you are today? 

I am Chinese. My parents are from Southern China, in the Canton area of China, and they immigrated to the United States in the 1940s. My father came here in the 1930s, and then soon when the World War II began, he enlisted in the Navy. My parents settled in Stockton, California and they had my four older brothers in Stockton. Then they moved out to San Francisco where they had me, their last child.

What has shaped me is a combination of things. There is the Chinese culture, but more than that is having grown up in a family where I consider my family to be very dysfunctional, quite abusive. There was a lot of heavy-handed physical abuse that both my parents considered a cultural thing where they considered it to be normal to use physical discipline, such a spanking, hitting, and sometimes they would use objects such as belts. I remember the Chinese feather duster handles and things like that. They thought it was normal. I always questioned it in my mind, but I didn’t feel like I had the power to speak up obviously out of my need for survival. Growing up in my household was pure survival, watching my siblings being disciplined the way they were being disciplined, not only physically, but being subjected to a lot of emotional manipulation and verbal abuse. I just saw that a lot of that was cultural. My parents had the order of things where the children are deferential to the parents and must respect the parents, which I totally agree, but I don’t agree with using the heavy handedness of a physical nature. My mom used a lot of verbal manipulation, a lot of guilt, I call it a Chinese mother guilt where they guilt the child into conforming to mom’s wishes or parent’s wishes.

I felt growing up that I had to suppress my real self, deeply suppress my real self, and I felt like I existed solely for the purpose of pleasing my parents and in particular my mother. My true voice, my true preferences were always muted. It was always in the background. I knew what I wanted, I knew my preferences, I had my own opinions, but if they did not resonate with those of my mother, if they were of opposing views, I would certainly hear about it and I would be shunned almost for having a different point of view.

Compared to other Chinese families, first-generation or immigrants, I don’t know whether this is true of other Chinese families, but it certainly was my experience and that’s all I know. I don’t know whether this is common among Chinese families, this is the way it is, or this is just specific to my situation with my mother. Feeling suppressed and not being able to express my real self, but I felt that I had to step outside and have a global view of things. In other words, I don’t know how, but I formed an ability to question everything I heard, everything I saw, and not take it or accept it as, “This is the way it is that it’s supposed to be.” I always felt like there is a better way of being and this is not it. To be in so much pain and suffering and to be suppressed, to live my life for the pleasure or at the whim of someone else to me was not freedom. It was not living at all. It was surviving. Through my childhood and even to my early adult years, I felt the need to survive my family.

I never lost sight of my culture. I’ve kept some of the traditional cultural things, like we celebrate Chinese New Year. I celebrate Chinese New Year with my kids and sometimes I prepare some of the traditional dishes. We hand out the lacy red envelope money or we may go out to a restaurant and celebrate in a small way, but I don’t hold on to any of the superstitions that my mother had. My father didn’t believe in any of the superstitions, such as, “You’re not supposed to wash your hair or sweep and clean your house on the New Year. You’re supposed to get all that done before the New York comes or else you wash away or sweep away your good luck,” things like that.

I do remember growing up and having many Chinese meals. My mother prepared traditional Chinese meals. I’m glad I have that cultural background and I can share some of that with my children without being fully immersed and overboard into all the superstitions and things like that. Given my upbringing in that I felt like I didn’t have a voice and that I didn’t have real freedom to be who I really was, that formed my core. My core of who I am is of certain tenacity, patience, self‑expression, and the constant pursuit of empowerment.

I’m older now. I’m certainly a different person now that I’m much older. I’m 53 years old and even in my 30s and in my 40s, I was still a little bit not sure of myself and somewhat deferential. I always worried about what others thought of me and always trying to appease or please people of significance in my life. Now I feel individual and free and self-expressed and empowered. I’m very clear, crystal clear about what I want in life and I do not put up with nonsense. I don’t want to waste my time or energy or effort on the things that don’t matter. People who are unkind or don’t contribute to me or the environment or the community in any way, I just don’t have patience or the tolerance for nonsense, and for people who do not treat others with kindness, compassion, and respect.

I can relate to a few experiences that you had. My family is not that bad, but sometimes my father disciplined us by using a leather belt and also using the chicken feather duster with the bamboo in the middle to whip us to discipline us to make sure that we know that he means business. In school as well. I remember in elementary school, if we did not study the homework and we could not recite our lessons, my second, third, fourth, and fifth teachers even, all the way from second to the fifth teacher, they will ask us to give our hand out and they will use the ruler to slap on our hands. I still remember those memories.

In Asia, people think that that is the way to discipline. That’s the only way to make sure that we as children grow up to be responsible. They did not know any better because they had not experienced the freedom, the respect to the children as it is in North America. I can totally relate to that. Thank you for sharing that, Darlene. Who is your role model growing up? 

I didn’t have a role model.

What are the disciplines you have learned to adapt to stay ahead in America growing up here? 

Being self-activated, being clear about what I want. I’ve always felt it was more important to be true to my pursuits and my preferences while at the same time I can retain my cultural background. I refuse to let my cultural background define who I am. In other words, who I am is not necessarily a Chinese woman. I happen to be Chinese, but that’s not all who I am. To grow up in America, to experience the freedom here, to pursue your dreams, it’s what you make out of life no matter what your background is, what your cultural background is, what your experiences are growing up, whether you’re “healthy family” or “dysfunctional family,” you just constantly move forward. I believe that while your background and experience shape who you are and your point of view about life, your convictions and your beliefs, it doesn’t set you in concrete or define your destiny or where you’re headed in life.

Journey Of A Beautiful Butterfly: We really don’t know what’s behind the curtain in terms of that academic pressure.

For some people, they’ve had a hard time growing up until you’re headed down a totally different path and be marred in the past and be stuck, but I find that I have that clarity of mind to step back and take a look and see it for what it was and know that it did not mean anything about me as a person. In America, we’re in a fortunate place to experience freedom and pursue what we want to pursue. Even in our community here, we have Asian families around in this neighborhood, Chinese and Indian, and I’ve at times volunteered at the local elementary school when my kids were at the elementary school. Being around other Asian parents and their kids, I can certainly see the dynamics play out in this heavy-handed academic focus that this is what it’s all about that can make mom and dad proud with the top grades and test scores. I had certainly seen that play out and I’ve seen kids from elementary school through middle to high school focused so much on making their parents happy, meeting their parents’ expectations around academics.

It’s very prevalent in the Chinese culture in particular. That’s also true in the Indian culture, but I can just speak from seeing firsthand the pressures that the parents place on their kids to achieve or to perform and excel academically that these kids, they lose their identity. They lose sight of themselves and what they want to do or if they do have in mind what they want to do and pursue that it’s different, they certainly suppress that in and give it up for the sake of pleasing mom and dad or for fear of perhaps retaliation or even abuse in some respects. Whereas compared to non-Asians, for example, the Caucasian population, I can see it’s a totally different approach and mindset. You pursue what you want to pursue and it’s quite different. There isn’t that expectation that the kids perform to a certain academic level and there isn’t that pressure necessarily. That is I think unique to the Asian culture.

A lot of it is in secrecy or behind the curtain, so to speak. We really don’t know what’s behind the curtain in terms of that academic pressure. What goes on when you have some families where the kids don’t get those straight A’s or their test scores are not that high, what happens? In their own way, they suffer a similar feeling of stifled being or loss of freedom that I experienced when I grew up. Mine was not academic-related, mine was a combination of culture and just my parents’ dysfunction. I think my mother had some psychological issues, so that was certainly at play there.

Would you say that it was a result of your parents’ marriage or your parents’ relationship with each other?

I think so. Theirs was an arranged marriage. I don’t know the details. They never told me the story of how they met but I just know they came to America. My father brought my mother to America and that was it. That was as much as they told me. It wasn’t like a loving relationship at all by any means. They were rather verbally abusive to one another. My mother was deferential to my father. I think that was part of the cultural norm in the Chinese culture that the man has the upper hand and the wife is deferential. A very traditional, male-dominant household and the wife, the mother, would take care of the house and cooking and the cleaning and everything, and the father would work.

You are actually the first generation in America, correct? 


You mentioned about having a different perspective now. How do you discipline your children?

What I do is I have consequences, but I make sure that they are fully aware that they are choosing their consequences. It’s not me taking away things or limiting their freedom or whatever. I have a list of expectations that I have with them, basic things, such as you do your homework well to the best of your ability, you turn it in on time, you stay organized, you’re at school, your main job is to be a student, do your absolute best. Each child has a list of chores around the house and they’re expected to do their chores and just contribute overall and help each other out in the family. They’re a contributing family member and also basic things such as treat each other with respect, treat me with respect, that means no foul language, you don’t talk to me rudely, etc., and if they don’t meet any of those expectations, then there is a subsequent consequence. I always make it clear, “These are your rewards and you can choose to earn these things such as video game time or going to the movies or TV time, money, allowance, going out to your friends’ house, time on your iPad, or whatever.” It’s more of “based on your choices to meet these expectations of family rules or mom’s rules or whatever, you can earn these things, but it is your choice whether you earn them or you lose them.” It’s pretty effective I found.

I don’t believe in shaming my kids or using physical means to discipline them at all. It’s humiliating. I have seen my son and daughter treated that way by my late husband, so he was of the old Chinese school way of discipline, very heavy handed, physical discipline, but he was also quite adept at emotional and verbal abuse. I watched it happen all the years that I was married. I was married to him for eighteen years before he passed and we were in the middle of a divorce when he had passed. I was the one who initiated the divorce I filed. I just woke up one day when I watched how he was treating our kids. I just woke up because all those years of marriage, I was playing the dutiful wife. It was almost like I was repeating what I was doing when I was growing up with my parents, trying to please my mom and dad, and so in my marriage, it was the same thing. He behaved the same way and I fell into that same pattern. I fell into the same pattern of associating with someone with that cultural background and I fell into that same role of trying to survive. Only this time, I was surviving an abusive marriage and I just woke up one day because instinctually, my maternal instinct came out and I felt the need to protect my children. My goal was to give my children freedom in life and so I decided no more of this, I filed for divorce, took my children, moved out, because I realized that I reflected on my own upbringing.

I watched my parents interact and saw the effect they had on my siblings and I knew the effect they had on me. For my children to watch me and their father interact in this way and then also have them experience what they were experiencing at his hands, I felt like if there was ever a chance for them to have full freedom in life and grow up to be healthy, contributing adults, healthy in mind as well as body, I had to get them out, and so I did.

This is critical here that most women who are trapped in that situation and they don’t know how to get out. How long did it take you to realize that your husband was abusive? Was he only abusive to your children? Was he abusive to you at all?

Yes, he was abusive toward me, not physically but verbally, very much so at times derogatory, degrading remarks, putdowns, didn’t see me as my own person, but more like an appendage to him who had to serve him. Everything was around him. We existed to do things his way, agree with him. How long did I realize it? I realized something was up even before we had kids, but I was young. I was 31 years old when I met him and I married when I was 33. Even when we had kids, when they were very young infants, I didn’t know what would come about.

It wasn’t until my son turned two and a half, between two and a half and three, I saw the very first signs of intense physical abuse and then the verbal abuse came too at the same time. I didn’t know any better. I thought, “Maybe this is supposed to be the way it is.” I don’t know what was going through my mind and certainly I didn’t have my voice. Again I was muted and I just played along and just thought, “Things will work out.” This continued and I filed for divorce in 2012 in late June. In 2012, my son was ten years old. My daughter was four, so it took awhile. I had slowly started waking up like, “This is not right.” and I started questioning things and then I started challenging him and speaking up, not confronting him, but just saying, “What you said wasn’t very nice. There’s a better way to say this,” and then he would put me down and he would deny what he was doing and said that I was interpreting or perceiving things the wrong way. He also pointed out that when he grew up, he got slapped around a lot and his father beat him and that’s the way it’s done. That’s how it’s done, he often told me.

I was too afraid to speak up and tell him, “I’m not okay with that,” but I did find other ways to try to convince him that what he was doing was not right, but he wouldn’t budge. We tried counseling. We went to couples therapy, we went to family counseling, and eventually got to the point where my son was so affected that I had to take him for individual therapy. I knew things we’re not going to change and something had to change. I finally realized that I have to change, “I can’t go along with this.” If I see that there’s something not working and if the wellbeing of my children is being affected, especially my well-being, I’m going to get out of there and that’s what I did.

When I filed for divorce, I was a stay-at-home mom and I was not working. I took the kids, moved out without having a job in place. I didn’t know where my income would come from, but I knew I had to get out. I also had faith that something would work out and I was going to make something work out, so I moved out. It was a scary thing. I didn’t have a job. I moved out and rented a town home and I just had my savings to live on at the time. I thought I’m going to go find a job at a temp agency and so I can have some flexibility to be with my kids and pick them up from school, drop them off, whatever. Somehow by some miracle, I don’t know why, I looked up some online job postings full-time no less. I never thought I would go back to work full-time. Prior to having kids, I was working full-time and then when I had my son, I took a break from work and I stayed at home to raise him and my daughter.

I happened to find a job posting for Bank of the West. I didn’t take it very seriously. It just had everything that matched my experience and expertise and I thought, “What the heck?” I’ll just throw in my hat and see what happens. I wasn’t expecting anything, but before I knew it, one phone call led to another, and before I knew it, I had an interview lined up and then I had a panel interview with five different people at headquarters and then two other interviews lined up with some other folks after that and I ended up with the job. By the time I got that job offer from Bank of the West, it had been about four months after I had moved out. I went from twelve years of being a stay-at-home mom to suddenly having a full-time job, living out on my own with my two kids. I didn’t know how it was all going to work working full-time and who’s going to take care of my kids while I’m at work if they need to get picked up from school, who’s going to drop them off, and where’s the daycare.

Journey Of A Beautiful Butterfly: Everything just worked out and snapped into place like it was meant to be.

I didn’t have it all figured out yet but I just took a grand leap of faith that something was going to work out. Our local neighborhood church had a daycare center and it was at that time notorious for having a long wait list, but I threw in my hat anyway. I just thought, “What the heck? I’ll just wait for it, so in the meantime I’m going to figure out something. Maybe I can have my girlfriends who are stay-at-home moms help me out by dropping kids off at school or picking them up and watching them for a few hours.” Within a few days after I throw in my hat, put myself on the waiting list, miraculously, this waiting list was a year-long but somehow they called me and said, “We have two spaces available for your two kids. Would you like to take the spot?” I said “Yes, I would.” I said, “Are there people in the waiting list? Are they going to take the spot?” I forgot what the reason was. I’m still thinking maybe even the parents that had just one child would’ve just taken one spot and they would give another spot away to another, but anyway, that was fuzzy to me at the time. Whatever they explained to me seemed to make sense but since they offered it to me, I just took it. I jumped ahead of the wait line and I took it. Everything just worked out and snapped into place like it was meant to be. Anyway, here I am.

That was meant to be. Once you make a decision to get out of that nasty relationship and you stand for your children’s freedom and self-expression, the universe complied to what you wanted because you were very clear about what you wanted. I see that a miracle happens when we are clear about what we want.

I’m a Christian and I have faith in God, and I put God first and I pray to him. He has met my every need and then some. During that time, it was my darkest time really, aside from my childhood upbringing, but it was a dark time and I found that whatever need I had, it was met even before I realized I had that need. I just didn’t realize it until I looked back like, “I really needed that.” Then, “It’s taken care of.” Everything just seemed to line up and was taken care of. That’s the power of God at work in my life. I don’t think I would be here today where I am if He was not by my side and if I didn’t have any faith in Him.

What does the word ‘power’ mean to you, Darlene?

The word ‘power’ means being in action, having the freedom to pursue your dreams and to make it happen, like being able to access many different resources, being able to be true to yourself.

What things have you done that you are proud of?

I am very proud of raising my children in the most loving way where they are good kids. They have a kind heart and compassionate. They’re just lovely people, lovely human beings. I’m very proud of my role as their mother. I’m also quite proud of forging my path in life in the face of extreme difficulty. I’m most proud of my own power, my own empowerment, that I was able create the life that I wanted. In the face of any difficulty, I can do it. Having gone through my childhood and my difficult marriage, I know I can accomplish anything in life. If I can go through that, if I can go through two periods of hell and raise two kids who turned out quite well, I can do anything. One of my goals in life is to empower other women and children in the same manner. It’s entirely doable.

It’s a very beautiful vision that you have. What makes you feel happy?

Being able to love my kids and experience their love, having the love of a partner. I’m engaged to be married. Me and my fiancé are getting married in October. Love is central to happiness. That is at the top. I don’t think anything else really matters. Not money, not a house or car or anything, just being alive, having love, having a healthy body, being able to freely enjoy the world, all that’s out there, that’s what makes me happy.

What makes you feel at peace?

Knowing that I’m capable of anything, I’m able to direct my life, my own path, where I want and knowing that I have resilience. That gives me peace, having resilience. Knowing that I have that resilience to deal with anything that life throws at me.

What are your top three goals in life?

My top three goals in life right now are number one, to create a loving, joyful, trusting marriage with my fiancé. We are getting married in October and he is my life partner. I feel that I found the love of my life and that’s something that I have not experienced before to be truly loved by someone so truly and to be able to love him in return and wholly and completely. That’s my number one goal. My number two goal is to raise my two children to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults who contribute to not only themselves but to others in the community and to the world at large, fully empowered, and thriving in life. My third goal is to empower others, specifically empower women and children. My life experience thus far has given me extensive experience and background and understanding and resilience into some of the darkest life events one can imagine of suffering and abuse that I think I have a unique insight and sensitivity into helping others empower themselves, take action and directing their own lives in the way that they want to. As a means of achieving that goal of empowering others, I am pursuing a PhD in psychology and I hope to become a psychologist and counsel and empower others in that way.

Have you applied to the school yet, to that program?

I have taken one course so far. It’s an online course as part of the online certification program. At UC Berkeley Extension, they have a certificate program in the psychology field. It’s a mini program, like a two-year program, that bridges the gap between the bachelors and the graduate school. It makes it a little bit easier for people to transition if they have a bachelor in a different field of study, they can jump onto this certificate program and get the certification. It makes it a little bit easier for them to step into a graduate program. It looks better on their graduate application to have this certification. The other thing I’m doing is I’m very active in the Landmark curriculum. I do plan to enroll in the Introduction Leaders Program and train to be a leader. I hope to become a seminar leader or one of many different types of course leaders in the future and empower others through that route.

That’s a big commitment. I am familiar with Landmark as well. The leaders, they committed their whole life to that cause. If you plan to do that, I applaud you for that. What are your top three advices for Asian women?

My number one advice would be to never lose sight of who you are as a person. It should be defined by your passion, your goals for yourself, and what you love, not defined by anything else. Number two is be expressed. You find your voice and keep that voice. Don’t be afraid to speak up, speak your mind. Number three is be strong and centered and follow your heart.

Thank you so much for this insightful interview. How can the audience get in touch with you and learn more about what you do, Darlene? What’s the email you want them to send to you?

They can email me [email protected].

Thank you for coming here today and share with our audience your story. I appreciate that.

Thank you for the opportunity, Kimchi.


I hope you recognize the old mindset and habits that we as Asian women do. Most of us want to be a good wife, a good mom, and a good daughter. We thought that being quiet, suppressive, obedient, we can keep family at peace to set good examples for our children, but the truth is the opposite. We need to know what we stand for. We need to have the courage to speak out and speak from the responsibility and ownership point view, not from blaming or shaming view. We need to learn a way to speak with our spouse, our parents, and others with honor and respect so that they don’t feel like we are attacking them. When we are able to do that, they will be open to hear what we have to share. Contact me if you need help in this area.

What did you get out of this interview? What did you have the courage to say or stand up to? Who are you from this point forward? I like to hear from you. Until next time, live life loud.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Quotes

"My true voice was mute."

"Who I am is not a Chinese woman."

"My resilience gives me peace."

About Darlene Wendy Wong

Darlene Wong currently resides in San Ramon, California, and is a San Francisco native who is a widowed, single mother of a 16-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. She was raised with four older brothers by parents who emigrated from China during World War II. She is engaged to be married this fall in October.
Her career in the financial services industry spans nearly 20 years in the areas of data management and analytics, strategic analysis, and marketing analysis. She has worked for Providian Bank, Charles Schwab Corporation, and recently reached her 5-year work anniversary at Bank of the West as a data analyst.
She took a 12-year hiatus to raise her two children as a full-time mother before returning to work in 2013. Darlene earned her Bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University, and is a graduate of the Landmark Program.
Darlene enjoys exercising, reading, cooking, baking, spending time along the Monterey coast, going to parks and the beach with her kids, and attending concerts and spending time with her fiancé.

As a side venture, Darlene is an independent distributor for SeneGence International.

To connect with her on FB, join her group “Plush and Plump Lip Beauty” or look for Darlene Wong from LinkedIn.
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/darlene-wong-2043b4/
Facebook page as SeneGence distributor: https://www.facebook.com/groups/104719806760035/?ref=bookmarks

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