Being able to communicate with the people who framed your world, who were your first relationship, is an assumption that many people take for granted.
As a first-generation migrant child, I was not given such a privilege.
The difficulties for migrant kids to fit into a Western world, culture and practice are framed very well within media and discourse. However, something that is less spoken about, is the disconnect we experience being stuck on the borderline of these two opposing worlds, and how it undermines our most primary relationship as a child.
People (often Western psychologists) have always told me that my parents were emotionally neglectful to some extent. I agree, in some ways, but now I am realizing more than ever that it was truly cultural. My neurosis definitely arises from this inability to comprehend these Western notions of love and affection, and the relationship that mothers and daughters seem to have to possess to have healthy development. To say my upbringing was far from these Western ideas of love is an understatement.
A distinctive memory that is etched in my brain is when I was five, and I had won a book from my kindergarten competition. Inside, there was a picture of a family eating, the caption reading ‘Dinnertime: a time for families to get together and talk about their day’. As a five year old, I was so intrigued by this picture, because it seemed so perfect. So that night at dinner, I proudly exclaimed to my mother that we should talk about how our days were (’That’s what the book says we should do!’). She gave me a look while she quickly ate her meal. ‘We don’t talk during dinner, we eat.’
That family in the book is still so clear in my mind. To an extent, I’ve always idealized that Western version of a family unit, and craved that sense of communication. This ideal form of love was not supplanted by the affection I was shown by my parents.
But of course, this isn’t to say that Chinese culture does not express affection. It is largely encapsulated in such a different way. On the way home from dinner today, I was asking my mother in the car why she wouldn’t take time off work to go on a holiday with my Dad, who embraces a Western form of living much more. She tells me ‘I’m so tired from work… when I get back all I want to do is cook for your and your brother and do the housework to make your lives easier.’ I cannot emphasize how much ‘practical love’ (??) my parents have given me. I have always said I was spoilt, I have never done chores my whole life, I was given a car, and I was given two rooms in my house. I don’t think I have ever been denied anything material in my whole life.
Yet, back to the picture of the family eating dinner, that was not the kind of affection that I was brought up to believe was a true form of love and compassion. Hence, I grew up feeling like my parents were not emotionally there, nor did they love me. But they did, but I just could not understand the ways they showed it.
It is so difficult, to be on the borderline of both of these cultures, yet not be able to fully comprehend either.