If you grew up in an Asian-immigrant home, I’ll bet you a cookie that you were told to become a doctor or engineer. The idea of success is limited to very clearly defined options that require a good amount of education and if you’re lucky, can bring in some good income. But what the heck?! 2 options? And what if you don’t want to be either of those? What’s wrong with being a successful nurse, entrepreneur, or attorney? There are some huge cultural differences that you probably noticed growing up in dual cultures. So, I’ve got to ask – what’s up with immigrant parents?
Stuck Between Dual Culture
Our immigrant parents hang onto the traditional culture they were raised with and get “stuck” in the culture at the time they immigrated, despite having lived here for decades. They also have no idea that their original culture is evolving as we are now living in a more global society. This phenomenon sounds similar to how trauma can get stored in the brain and is called Intergeneration Cultural Dissonance – parents and their children clash on cultural values and get stuck in the culture at the time in which it occurred. Moving from their country of origin to where they are now meant they had to preserve their culture, and for them, that meant through their legacy – you. If they moved here in the 1980’s you probably grew up with cultural norms and values from the 1980’s at the time of their country of origin. In South Asia, there is a huge movement where women are fighting to be heard and for their human rights to break unhealthy generational cycles and to bring balance to the culture. Women are becoming a necessary part of today’s workforce and are gaining financial and emotional independence. Now, do our Asian parents know this? Probably not, unless they go back to visit often enough to evolve with the culture. Chances are that when they go back to visit, they see young people living a more progressive life and don’t understand it. They might have strong opinions against the new norms because the culture they knew and valued is starting to fade. And to them, that’s okay because they feel they’re doing their part in preserving the culture in their home.
Have you been wanting to bring your immigrant parents into the year 2021?
You’re not alone.
If you grew up with Asian parents, you probably had a very different life than your peers. Things like going on dates, going to the movies with friends, and voicing your opinion weren’t on your radar. In fact, these thing might have caused cultural trauma that you’re still dealing with. Your parents were probably on the traditional side because they came from traditional cultures, and these norms evolved to what they are because there was a need for them at some point in time. We love them for all the sacrifices they made for us, I’m sure it wasn’t easy moving to another country, having to learn a new language, finding a job, and juggling family back home. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to raise us in a culture they weren’t familiar with and the only reference they had was the few TV shows they saw and from what Auntie Aisha reported back to them. They taught us what they knew and did their best. Here’s the thing tho, culture is constantly evolving and will never be the same as when you grew up. Explaining to them that things are different now and that having your own identity and independence can be another way healthy of doing things. That you want to take your time to find the right partner and marrying for love, and this feels too “new age” for them. For them, marriage was a means of survival.
How Can I Break The Cycle?
Here’s the thing, it’s hard to juggle dual culture, I’ve been there. As a first-generation Brown Therapist growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta wasn’t easy. Here’s what I learned:
- You can develop a voice that’s different from your parents and culture.
- You are not responsible for other people’s well-being.
- You’re allowed to keep parts of your culture that you like, and throw the rest in the trash.
- You’re allowed to create a new culture including Eastern and Western values.
- You are not alone, there are many fellow Asian-American straddlers who live through dual-cultures.
With trauma-informed therapy like EMDR and working through the shame of disappointing your parents, we can get you there. Holla at me!
Zulaikha Straight, MA, LPC, NCC, NCIAC, NCLC
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