First, Visuals to Set the Mood!
Disclaimer: Will credit all artistic content that is not mine to the best of my ability, open to be corrected if I’m misinformed.
Credit: Ephemeral Eternal
Credit: Bitch Media
Credit: The nether regions of the Internet
The Intro Paragraph!
Well, you made it to chronological adulthood.
For some, this journey has looked like being a model Well Rounded Student™ to get into an Insta-worthy college that’s led to a shiny job at a place your parents can brag about. For others, you may have chosen a path less traveled. And now, you’re at a place where you’re comfortable enough to start paying back student loans and your parents are still trying to understand why your life choices are not in the “lawyer-doctor-engineer” trilogy you were supposed to pick from. There may also be some of us recovering or going through some Grown Adult Shit™, and all those American Dream milestones may not be possible now, or never was part of what you wanted for yourself. Especially if America’s influence on your ancestral land influenced your family’s migration. [That can be another series, what do you think?]
Despite which type of adult you identify with, the same themes consistently come up both in my personal experience and what I’ve observed in sharing with friends, family members, and fellow First Gen kids: navigating power and privilege as our parents age with us, KonMari-ing the values you grew up with to fit the life you’re building for yourself, and how to have conflict with your elders as your status changes from Child to Adult. Let’s dive!
Navigating Power and Privilege
Caption for non-anime fans: The picture above is from an anime called Dragonball Z. In this photo is a young, blonde, Super Saiyan Gohan, with his dead dad Goku appearing as a spirit behind him. The reference is that Gohan is trying to defeat a villain that his father couldn’t defeat, and his dad is lending him power/encouragement from the afterlife so he could achieve what Goku could not. And also, dad gets the credit, kind of, anyway.
A common hope/belief with immigrant parents is that their kids will take the best of what opportunities America has to offer, while keeping their hearts, minds, and values rooted in the same soil of their parents’ childhoods. This sentiment can often come across as anxious parenting, manifesting in phenomenons like co-depending or being “overprotective parents” a.k.a. Immigrant Parents.
Co-dependency warning signs can include:
- an excessive need to please others
- fear of being alone
- need to be in control
- intimacy problems
For some, our elders’ need for us to be available at all times may be rooted in practical needs: needing to translate something in English, navigating a government form, or just taking out the trash. As the parent, reliance on one’s children may feel like too much power to give to someone you’re supposed to lead and raise. Fostering co-dependency among your American children can seem like a tactic to keep filial piety deeply rooted enough to weather the storms of American cultural values like “personal independence” or “mental health” as a “thing.”
Either way, you’re the American kid to immigrant parents. That power shift is going to happen. Whether that’s the day they need you to translate at the doctor’s office, the day you go to an older cousin or school counselor to navigate college applications, or the day you defend them from some xenophobes in public. That realization may land for them first than it does for you, because in your mind this is just how childhood rolls.
With a parenting approach rooted in anxiety of raising a kid in a foreign land, some immigrant parents seem like they’re stocking up karma points to spend when the day comes that their American child may want to make an independent decision that doesn’t align with The Plan™ or is about something they don’t understand. As if Karma Points can be exchanged for Because I Said So Points, to avoid being in a position of being schooled and/or proven wrong by your kid.
Best Practice #1: Break it down into bite-sized pieces.
For elders that just seem “regular anxious” about your decisions, I encourage you to unpack that with them, and to do so rooted in a place of love and wanting them to accept the same level of peace and certainty you have about your decisions. Don’t be a jerk about being right (as my mom tells me). Also, see what you feel comfortable sharing in terms of both successes and failures, so they can see how resilient you’ve become. For the most part, they want to feel like they’re part of your progress without admitting they need to read the Ikea instructions.
Here are some templates to get things going:
- I’m choosing to do this because it’s a common next step for people in my career, and I know I’ll be a better professional if I do this. What about this is worrying you?
- Where did you hear that [decision] was a bad thing? Let me share what I know about it, I learned it through [credible source that isn’t WebMD or Wikipedia].
- I’m glad you raised me to value [working hard, being honest, etc.]. That really paid off today when I…
- Ah, [negative thing happened]. Though, I have a plan and everything is on track to be fixed in a week.
KonMari-ing Your Values
The need for kids to be nearby can also be rooted in the validly fearful reality of being an immigrant in America and immigrants need all the allies we can get.
America, aka ‘Murica. The land of internationally known Ivy League universities with single digit acceptance rates. The land colonized by ex-Brits that successfully flipped the bird at the Union Jack while they reaped the lives and lands of Native nations to become the world superpower they are today. The land where immigrants with a good dream and strong work ethic can get rich, where $1 USD can get you a slice of pizza in NYC and is also one of the top 3 most popular currencies in the world. America.
Best Practice #2: Let your elders know that they and their culture is still relevant to you. Whether that’s trying to speak with them more in their native language and less in English, whether that’s electing to call or visit before they nag you to, or maybe just to post a fire selfie on their Facebook wall so they can humble brag to their friends how good their kid looks and “wow look at that gene pool, amirite?”; the goal is to normalize the fact that you can and will make decisions independently of them, and that being more of yourself doesn’t mean erasing their value in your life.
Best Practice #3: Colonization is deep and real. Understand that you’re American first in their eyes, and everyone needs to do decolonization work.
Okay first of all, I see it too: this is a huge chunk of bao to try and swallow as a best practice in the 2nd part of my first ever blog post. There is a lot of scholarly literature, fiery Tumblr posts, and, of course, TedTalks about this subject. If this is your first time even grappling with the concept of decolonizing your perception of self and the world, see how these scenarios fit you:
- mom handing you a bar of Fair & Lovely, telling you it’s better to not look like a farmer while your grandma who spent her whole life toiling her ancestral lands planting rice looks away, pointedly focused on today’s rerun of Jeopardy!
- aunties telling you not to date anyone “blacker than the bottom of your foot” and don’t you have a nice White friend that’s single?
- the concept of pelo malo, that the only hair to be proud of is what’s straight, maybe a little wavy; no kinks allowed
- giving you an American name, bonus points if it’s from the Bible (shoutout to all the Davids, Esthers, Jeremiahs, and Sarahs)
- when asking why we left the homeland, as the Philippines pops up as one of the top “hidden gems” of travel and the response is something along the lines of “people who live there are stuck, there’s nothing there, it’s better to send the care package than to receive it”
Depressing, I know. That being said, the decolonization work can start between you and your elders. In validating your cultural traditions, the family values you do agree with, and also being willing to critique where America gets it wrong, and to also own up to when you are flexing your privilege by using complex words or deep American cultural references instead of meeting your family where they’re at. Being the bigshot American at your elders is exactly the type of flex they don’t want, and that’s not the kind of mess you want to try to start or clean up. Let’s not perpetuate the harm of colonization on our elders, especially as we both age and they know they need to rely on us more than we need to rely on them. Transition to the last point in this post:
How to Conflict with Elders That Doesn’t Result in Being Disowned
Image: Mushu and Crickee from Disney’s Mulan
Well shit. Here it comes. You know you’re right. You KNOW it. Or, at least, you know enough that you can hold your own in a discussion at the adult table. And it’s important enough to bring up to the elders. How we gonna survive this?
Best Practice #4: To avoid being a jerk (like me), be conscious of your physical cues first. One of my favorite tools to use with my clients is being really aware of your body, your breath, and what happens when you’re discussing something stressful or anxiety-inducing. If you haven’t thought of this before, let’s try it out right now:
- If it’s safe to pause for right now, get comfortable: whether you’re seated, standing, or lying down.
- Take some deep breaths. Increasing oxygen flow tells your central nervous system, your brain, and your body that you’re in a safe space.
- Let your jaw slack a little, release your shoulders and let them drop a bit.
- Let your gaze drop down to the floor. Or, if you feel comfortable, close your eyes.
- Take 3-4 deep deep breaths. (or cheat and do only 2, what am I gonna do, know about it?)
What did you notice about your body? What does being in a state of calm feel like? Is there a glob of good vibes that sits on your chest, maybe hugs your shoulders? What color is it? Does it have a texture? Does it feel cool, or warm, or something else?
The nice thing about energy and your body is that they’re the two things that will always be with you. When you’re in a stressful situation and need to call on some calm, check in with your body. Let them support you, remind you what it’s like to feel in control and safe.
On the flip side, also know what you’re like when you get irritated. Does your forehead flare up? Do your fingers twitch, do your toes tap? What does that energy look like, feel like; where does it sit in your body? When you think about that one problematic, nosy auntie, where does anger flare up in your body? Know your body, let those cues be your cue to pause.
Best Practice #5: If’s and and’s, but no buts.
One of my favorite phrases that I learned from someone super close to me [that literally sits behind me Monday – Friday], is to replace “but” with “and, also.” Let me say that again in bold:
Replace “but” with “and, also.”
And that makes sense. Earlier in this post, I touched on relevancy, the fear of losing control, of experiencing colonization by the younger generation. It’s one thing to be right, it’s another thing to be right and just have more power and privilege because America is your home court. Replacing “but” with “and, also” does a couple of things:
- it validates the other person’s viewpoint, even if it’s just true for them
- it pivots the conversation to layer your point on theirs as equally valid, not as an opposition per se, but as a co-existing truth
- it doesn’t mean you agree with them, it does mean this is meant to be a conversation and not a conversion
Image: Psyduck, a Pokémon, channeling the power of its headache into an attack
Of course again, immigrant parents. If it’s not a 100% “yes, you’re right mom” it’s an act of defiance, it’s a mockery of your authority, it’s being fresh, it’s your ass begging for a slipper/hanger/belt/broom/etc.
[NOTE: If you experienced physical harm that you’re reconsidering as abuse and not as a tier of parental discipline, here’s some steps to do a pulse check & consider how to heal and unlearn that]
Though fam, there’s another level to conflicting with our elders. They want us to win at life, because when we win, we all win.
To a degree, they also want the assurance that we got this adulting shit handled. That we can hold our own in an adult conversation, come through with valid points, and also still be as respectful and loving as kids and parents should be. Depending on the relationship you have with your elders, that may come easier than you may realize. The middle ground is loving each other: whether that’s pouring them tea first and refilling the kettle, wearing that shirt your mom bought at TJ Maxx for you, or even quoting their advice and catchphrases back at them.
Image: Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan, Creed II
*I wanted to make this image a metaphor of being proud to make the next generation successful, “taught him everything he knows” yadda yadda… I also like looking at Michael B. Jordan. Bless his commitment to his craft.
Best Practice #6: Know their boundaries, and make yours known.
Know yourself. You grew up with your elders, and maybe you know some of the family chai when it comes to things they’ve done, things they’ve survived, and things they don’t want to talk about. You’re not a kid anymore. You’ll always be their child, you were born/raised in America, and also, you’re an adult now. Relying on you is going to be the norm, and they need to know you’re reliability is more than within your skills of Speaking English, Knowing American Culture, and Having White Friends (maybe).
Let them know what your boundaries are with your personal life, your professional life, your sense of self, and your body. Be clear about what critiques you will tolerate, which ones you’re going to square up and defend, and which ones are harms and are not allowed in your space. If you want to be petty, you can send light reminders about the faults and flaws you know they have, finessing those comments as mid-level warnings not to test your boundary.
Regardless of how you define your boundaries, do this rooted in love. Do this rooted in love for yourself, pride in who you have become, and hope in who you are becoming. Do this so they can see you as an adult. That you’ve grown from the kid you once were into an adult that is rising to be the manifestation our ancestors’ wildest dreams. Because in this world, it’s somehow a wild dream for a first gen kid in America – a kid of immigrant parents – to be safe, secure, healthy, and in community with their people.
With all that said…
Image: Fauna the fairy, trying to bake a cake in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty
…there it is! First post done! Please be gentle and abundant with constructive criticisms, looking very forward to them since it’s been awhile I’ve written something creative, much less a mental health blog. Looking forward to create next week’s topic “Can I Be Queer Now?” where I’ll discuss the journey of exploring your gender identity and sexual orientation, and as a first gen kid how social media plays a part in affirming your identity.