Dual-Cultured American: Why Having Immigrant Parents Is So Humbling

by Eric Ma

Every Sunday morning, the aroma of freshly-fried scallion pancakes and satay vegetables filled my household.

After I ran down the stairs and walked into the kitchen, my mom would greet me with a warm plate and a big smile.

This was just one of the many family traditions my mom would continue to uphold throughout my childhood; it's one she still does even to this day.

Growing up, I realized there was a major difference between me and my American friends.

Obviously, our physical appearances were different, but we also had completely different cultures.

Although I was born in the United States, American and Taiwanese influences defined and impacted my upbringing and background.

Any child with immigrant parents can identify with the constant insecurity of not feeling 100 percent “American.”

Whether it was the type of cuisine you consumed, the apparel you wore or even your special talent of being bilingual, you never truly felt like you fit in with your peers.

For me, at least, all three of these characteristics contributed to my identity.

From the greasy, oversalted fish with rice I would devour during dinner to the wacky-colored print ensembles my mother would magically pair together, they all shaped me into the person I am today.

Looking back, there were a few instances during my childhood when I was embarrassed of my parents’ actions and behaviors because they weren’t acting like the stereotypical "American parents."

In particular, for recitals, conferences and talent shows in elementary school, I would plead with my parents not to attend because I feared the judgment they would receive from friends, teachers and other parents.

Toward the end of my elementary school days, I came to the realization I was never going to accept my parents until I learned to love them in the same unconditional way they loved me.

That being said, I definitely believe growing up in a dual-culture household taught me how to become a more responsible individual at a young age.

By the age of 10, I was helping my mother by translating just about everything.

Since my mom spoke broken English at the time, I would speak to the credit card, E-ZPass and insurance companies on her behalf whenever she had a dilemma (which felt like every other day).

And, if you have ever done this for a parent before, you understand it is a very time-consuming and tiring experience.

Not only are you put on hold for endless periods of time, but you are also translating between two languages and waiting on responses from each party.

Sure, as a kid, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. Believe me, I much rather be watching the newest episode of Pokémon or playing on my Game Boy.

But in the back of my mind, I knew if I helped my mom out, it would just make the entire process smoother for her.

One time, I got so frustrated because I had been put on hold for over an hour, and I screamed at my mom in Mandarin, “Why can’t you just learn how to speak English and call for yourself?”

I immediately regretted what I had said. A dark shadow of sadness fell upon her face, and she began to tear up a little.

I ran straight toward my mom to give her a giant bear hug, and I apologized for my hurtful words. I explained my intentions weren’t to make her upset; I was simply frustrated and wrongfully took my anger out on her.

Now, as an adult, I finally understand how stupid and naïve I was when I was younger.

There was absolutely no reason for me to feel embarrassed or ashamed of my parents because every sacrifice they made in their lifetimes was for me.

I feel so much regret when I think about the times I screamed at my parents to be more American and to stop embarrassing me in front of my friends.

I could never imagine venturing off to a mysterious foreign country just to ensure my children would have a better livelihood than the one I had growing up.

In my opinion, it is one of the most courageous and selfless acts any individual can do.

Without a doubt, I am so thankful for everything my parents have provided me with. They truly are my real-life superheroes.