My parents’ backgrounds are Chinese, and they were born in Indonesia making me Chinese-Indonesian. I was born in New York City and grew up in London, Ontario. Every time someone asks me where I’m from, they get a confused look when I explain. Growing up with a lot of cultures, I often felt lost, foreign and annoyed.
When I was 15, I thought that at 22, I would be an “adult”. And live my life out of my parents’ rules. I’d like to go back and tell my 15-year-old self how wrong I was. I have come to terms, and accepted the fact that no matter how old I am, my parents (and my entire family, in general) will always be telling me what to do. I cannot say ‘no’ to them, and I’m pretty sure that I would get in serious trouble if I ever tried. Here are my top ten struggles of growing up in an immigrant household:
1. My Mom’s Shopping Mentality
My mom is the Queen of justifying everything to fit her needs. She can make me feel guilty for buying something because she claims “it’s expensive, and she can find it cheaper.” On the other hand, when I say that the $500 sterling silver utensils set she keeps and ONLY uses on special occasions is pointless, she says “You just don’t get it.” How my foreign mom can justify spending $250 on a deep fry cooker but yells at me for buying $20 flats is beyond me.
I wasn’t allowed to speak English at home, and one of my fondest memories is my grandma refusing to give me food until I said “Eat” in Indonesian. Don’t even get me started on the English part… my parents will always claim that they’re saying the words correctly in English even though I know they’re not. Try to correct them? Good luck to you. You’ll probably only hear “that’s what I said!”
In high school, my foreign parents always said, “NO, no dating until you finish school!”. Once University started, every family member asked about my boyfriend, and my favorite question, “When are you going to have a wedding?”
I don’t know what it is, but Asian adults have no shame – they will tell you when they think you’re fat. Growing up meant hearing shouting for eating too much or for not eating anything at all. WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!
The best feeling in the world was opening a package and seeing that it was what the label actually said. Days when I would open the yogurt package and actually see yogurt, and the cookie box and saw cookies, instead of sewing needles.
6. What is grounding?
I barely got in trouble, but when I did – boy, did I wish I were grounded. Two weeks of no television, Internet, or phone? I can handle that. Grounding in my foreign household meant a long lecture, a well-meaning slap, and knowing that I would be stupid to ask my parents to do anything for an undetermined amount of weeks. The worst was also going everywhere with my parents because they couldn’t simply leave me at home. And then being lectured once again because you bet that my parents told all my aunts and uncles what I did.
7. Being Sick & Home Remedies
What is Tylenol? My parents will try every home remedy they know before even considering taking me to the doctors or giving me Tylenol. My favorite remedy is rubbing my back with a coin and oil to “get rid of the bad toxins”. I’ll admit, these home remedies work but they also hurt like hell.
8. Signing School Documents
I think I could have gotten my foreign parents to sign an emancipation form when I was younger because they either, a) barely paid attention or b) they just told me to sign it because they were running late. Knowing my parents’ signatures was also beneficial during times when I didn’t want them to see what needed to be signed.
I love my parents, bless their soul – but they are a lot to handle. They’re either constantly comparing me to their friends’ kids. If they’re not doing that, they’re disappointed at home and then bragging like no other when they see everyone else.
10. Constant Check-Ups & Curfews
I was super naïve when I was 18, and thought that being in University means no curfew even though I live at home. How wrong I was, my parents still ask me what time I’m going to get home, where I’m going, and still expect me to come home every night. My parents also constantly call me for 20 seconds about 7 times a day. This hasn’t changed since high school, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Here’s the breakdown of a typical phone call:
Mom or Dad: “Where are you?”
Me: “School/Work/Mall, etc.”
Them: “Ok, bye.”
My parents’ constant nagging, and traditional ways definitely made for an interesting upbringing, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I grew up annoyed with my family’s immigrant lifestyle, but they made me into a stronger person. I can handle criticisms like a boss, and truly care less about what others say (you would too after years of fat comments). It also made me appreciate my culture a lot more, and gave me a sense of connection with my culture. All those years that I complained having to speak in Indonesian benefitted me in the long run – I can now have a proper relationship with my grandparents, speak two languages, and can actually visit Indonesia on my own.
Now, I’m not saying that all cultural upbringings experience the same upbringing as I did. You may know some Asians or other immigrants who grew up in a standard ‘North American’ household. Each person’s cultural experience is different, and no two people will have the same upbringing. My experience has definitely made me have a different perspective on various situations in my life, and it has helped shaped who I am today.
Featured Image via screengrab of Modern Family.