Asian American

The gift of first generation American

Here we are in front of my name and my father's at our family temple in Lamphun.
Here we are in front of my name and my father’s at our family temple in Lamphun.

What can I say? I was lucky. I am lucky.

To all those first generation American kids: yeah, our parents are different but they are such a gift. You’ll have to trust me on this one. Whatever perceived flaws you might find in their traditional ways, will probably be your allies and strengths in the future.

Because you are under their influence, you get to see the world through your parents eyes, being an immigrant in America.

I think anytime you have the opportunity to see the world through another person’s eyes or perspective you are moving closer to this ideal of, One World, or at the very least, learning to be a more compassionate person. We forget this, especially when viewpoints feel so different or when you are living with your parents and you just want to get the heck out!

My ex used to joke that I was a “banana”, yellow on the outside and white on the inside. It’s probably safe to say, to him and others, I’m not Asian enough. I’m a first generation American and with that comes the immersion of American culture with the subtle stampeding of Thai culture running in and out of my life.

Perhaps the ex resented the fact that when we first got to Thailand we – struggled. He watched me and the Thais struggle with my identity. Perhaps I didn’t fit the idea that he had in his head of what it meant to be Asian. I didn’t know the language and he went through some serious culture shock. I’m not mad at him or anything for his reactions, I grew up not only with a Thai mother, which I’m sure helped me transition to Thailand, but I was raised by a Thai mother who struggled A LOT.

I grew up watching my mom struggle with the English language and was on the receiving end of her anger when I couldn’t help. “Why are you going to school?” was her common retort after I couldn’t make sense of banking statements or other business jargon that was way over my childhood head.

Is it ironic then that I am an English teacher in Thailand? And stranger still, that she didn’t teach me Thai? So, communication, was interesting. I always assumed she understood everything and was being lazy when she asked for help. After I left home for college, I began to wake up to her reality.

She began to say to me, ME, her own daughter, “I don’t understand” with more frequency.

I never talked down to her, in the sense, that I didn’t talk differently to her than I would a friend or a teacher. Same pace, same language, same everything because even though she had an accent, she lived in the same English speaking world as I, and she is my mother.

As a child, I never understood why folks would say to my mother, “You’re an amazing woman.” Now, I get it. She grew up very poor with a 5th grade education, in rural Thailand, married my father, left home and family at 23, then 6 years later her husband died while we were on holiday in Thailand. She raised my brother and I very well, considering.

She’s not one of those saintly mothers you hear about, she was physically and mentally abusive, but maybe that’s just the role of Asian mother. (I say that a little facetiously.) I suppose if I gave you the rundown of all the crap we went  through you’d wonder how I could love her, or forgive her, but I do. Maybe it’s the unconditional love thing.

Sometimes we forget that our parents are people and if you ever get the chance to listen to their struggles and stories, I reckon you would find the right thing you need to hear. Even if they are an example of what you don’t want to be, I figure your parents are your parents for a reason.

I don’t have the Thai skills and I don’t wear my culture like clothing, I wear my culture inside me, judge me if you must, chose a color if you like, but I still count myself lucky.

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” Thich Nhat Hanh

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