Last night I had a dream that I was nine again. I woke up to intense residual feelings of trying to navigate school and friendships… and shame around my culture and heritage. I couldn’t get back to sleep so started journalling and as I wrote, the more that came back to me about my childhood.
There’s so much that I’d forgotten about. I used to do everything I could to make people believe I was white. I rejected everything that was Chinese, and mimicked the mannerisms, the habits of my white friends so that I could paint this version of myself that I liked better. Who did I think I was fooling?
It’s so sad, to confront this rejection of my identity. I just wanted to be like the other kids. I wanted to be normal. And that meant being white.
I feel the generation/ cultural gap between my mum and me widen into a chasm whenever we talk about relationships. The way she dated when she was my age is so different from the way I date now and I think we’re both aware of that. I feel her self-consciousness when she tries to relate to me and my love life. What begins as an awkward navigation through questions about me and O, becomes underhanded insults towards me.
Why does he like you?
Maybe he’s just trying you out for the time being?
I know the undercurrent too well. When I was little, my mum would warn me of my friendships with people who weren’t Chinese – they don’t understand us, soon enough they’ll reject you, best to stick with people like us. Now that I’m older, I know that this is her projecting her fears onto me. She did this then and twenty years later, she’s still doing it now. I know that this is an expression of love (in a way), her trying to protect me. She’s worried that O will eventually reject me but all I get out of conversations like this is that I’ll never be enough.
The other day I saw this meme that said immigrant parents were tasked with survival but immigrant children get the privilege of seeking self actualisation. I really love my mum, she is the strongest woman I know and I will never know the extent of the sacrifices and resilience it took to forge a new life in a foreign land. Maybe the way to bridge the gap is to remind myself of this – that my parents are fearful because of their experiences and the fact that I’m carefree is a privilege that’s come from a sheltered upbringing, which my parents gave me.