Growing up, my parents made me attend every cultural event held in our city or neighboring states.
(Why must New Jersey be so close to New York?)
The out-of-state ones were the worst.
Not only did I have to spend the day at an Indonesian party, but I also had to suffer through another two-hour drive to get home.
While this would have been fine if it was only once in a while, there was an event every single weekend.
While my friends got to enjoy their Saturdays sleeping in and hanging out with one another, I was stuck attending my parents’ friends’ parties or cultural shows.
Sundays were for eating leftovers, which also included mandatory attendance.
There was no getting out of these events, no matter how hard I tried.
“Bring it with you, and study there.”
(This never worked out.)
“Sleep in the car.”
“No one will be home to drop you off or pick you up.”
It was fun in middle school, especially when my other friends were dragged to the events, too.
But once high school hit, I started to dread these events.
My parents basically had to force me to go, with their favorite reason being, “My house, my rules.”
This is also the time when I began to feel every teenage angsty emotion available.
As stereotypical as it sounds, I wanted to be like everyone else.
I didn’t want my mom’s home-cooked meals. Give me McDonald's.
I didn’t want to attend those parties. Give me a party with my friends.
I didn’t want to speak Indonesian. English only, please.
I didn’t want to embrace my culture. Let me be “American.”
In a nutshell, I was Eddie Huang from "Fresh Off The Boat."
Looking back, I think I told my parents I was American and not Chinese-Indonesian about 100 times a week.
I wanted to distance myself from my culture.
I wanted to be out late like my friends were allowed to be.
I wanted to attend sleepovers, only eat pasta and burgers and speak English constantly.
This is what I defined as being American.
But this is not what being American means.
I appreciate my parents so much for putting up with all my bullsh*t and constantly being there.
My parents let me go through the phase, but they also constantly reminded me of my culture.
While my mom incorporated some burgers or pasta into our dinners once in a while, she continued to make traditional meals.
They happen to be my favorite meals now.
My parents also put an end to the English speaking only.
I would only hear, “No English” and lots of, “Huh? Indonesian, please.”
I was too busy trying to be like my friends and emulating the life of a typical high school teenager.
I forgot what it meant to be me.
My culture shaped the way my parents raised me, and it has shaped the way I view the world.
It took a while for me to get over this phase, but by the time 12th grade hit, I realized I didn’t hate these events as much as I thought I did.
Sure, my parents gave me a lot more freedom while choosing which parties to go to, but I found myself saying, "Yes" more often than not.
I got so caught up in thinking about what I was missing while attending these parties that I didn’t take time to appreciate what I gained: time with my family, great food and a connection with my parents’ country.
I wanted to be “American,” but I had lost sight of the fact that what makes me American is embracing my culture.
This is a country full of immigrants, and multiculturalism exists all around us.
There is a Chinatown in almost every major city.
When my friends and I are out, we usually eat at ethnic places, whether they are Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian or Italian.
I realized I will always be American.
I was born in this country, and no one can take that away from me.
However, it is possible to lose my culture by distancing myself from it.
By embracing my culture, I can go to Indonesia by myself and wander on my own.
I can talk to my grandparents back home in Indonesian.
I have a wide range of tastes, and I am more willing to immerse myself in different cultures.
I know more about my family’s history.
I have a unique perspective on life, and I am bilingual.
All of this is possible because I chose to embrace my culture instead of conceal it and run away from it.
Sure, I get fed up once in a while, but it does not deter me from learning about my culture.
Now that I’m in college, I find myself missing having the time to attend these events.
I miss eating my parents’ cooking.
It is easy to get caught up in society’s standards of how to live your life, but here’s the thing: It's your life.
Live it the way you want, and embrace that all you are and all that your family stands for.
Embracing my culture has given me many opportunities and a unique perspective that has helped me in life.
Do you wish you could understand your parents more or that you could connect with your family?
Know your culture.
This helps you understand your family’s way of thinking, your history and why you are the way you are.
Research your heritage, whether it’s by going online or listening to your parents’ and grandparents’ experiences.
Not only will you get the chance to spend time with your family, but you will also learn something new.
Your culture affects you more than you think.