O met my parents for the first time today. I was super anxious about it, imagining the awkwardness of it, the gaps in communication and culture. It was fine. It was absolutely fine. Conversation flowed, we laughed and talked like familiar people do. It was so seamless and natural. I am so glad and relieved.
I don’t give my parents enough credit. In my mind, their English isn’t at a level where they can hold conversation but in reality, this isn’t true at all. They are perfectly capable of holding conversation and engaging with other people. I’ve really underestimated them.
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.
Christmas is less exciting the older I grow. It’s nice to spend time with family but the dynamics change a bit and the day itself becomes more exhausting. Maybe it’ll be like this until I have my own family and children and can adopt some of their excitement for the holiday as my own.
Christmas makes me think a lot about culture and family. It’s not a holiday that’s celebrated in China so the things that my family does on the day doesn’t feel like ours either, and a sort of imposter syndrome comes over me and I suddenly feel that everything we do is fake and inauthentic. Our heritage doesn’t celebrate Christmas, why do we?
I guess ultimately it’s a day to spend with people you care about, whatever shape that takes. There’s no prescription on how it should be done. Today we sat around in my Aunt and Uncle’s garage, while my Uncle cooked lamb and chicken on the BBQ and we ate off plates that sat on our laps. It was very unglamorous, nothing at all like the fancy table settings that fill my Instagram feed. But it also felt real – just a bunch of people eating and laughing together on a day where none of us had to work. That’s special.