I had my parents in town a few weekends ago and it got me thinking about being a first-generation immigrant, what I’ve learned from my parents, and how much I didn’t know about my parent’s past in making the decision to move to the United States. I spent a night talking to them to find out more and it taught me a lot about the strength of my parents and why I am the way I am. Most of my popular blog posts have to do about me, my divorce and updates about my life. I wanted to write a bit more about my past and what its like being a first-generation immigrant and how that has impacted my life.
I was born in Taiwan and moved to Seattle when I was 3. I didn’t remember seeing color or race (my first best friend at 3 was black at my low-income daycare) until I entered first grade. I’ll get back to that, but my dad was a CPA in Taiwan and came to the U.S. to get his MBA and to receive a U.S. CPA, was striking gold back then. Going back to Taiwan with a U.S. CPA meant he would excel his career, as he was working at an accounting firm that audited U.S. companies. This would put him ahead of his co-workers and in a better position to earn more. The decision to stay in the U.S. was three things 1) lifestyle, my mom and dad loved the here and it was a dream to come 2) they wanted their children to grow up here with education that wasn’t so tough and give us opportunities 3) many parents in Taiwan at that time were sending their children to the U.S. without them so that they could get a good education and there was government turmoil with China, with my dad staying in the US, it meant our family was together as a unit and there was no separation or worry. It was hard to get a green card and receive an American education and job (which he did). That decision to stay changed our lives forever. I wouldn’t be sitting here with the opportunities I have had without it.
I’ve lived away from my parents since college, moving to San Francisco, New York, then Chicago. I love cities, my dream was to live in Cali and NY and I did both. I’m an adventure seeker and not afraid of love or moving. In the past two years, I’m even more so “a live for the moment gal”. But I work hard at doing this full time, it is harder as a minority to blog and be on social media. It may not be something everyone talks about but I do think it’s easier for a blonde hair, blue-eyed, thin woman to blog and Instagram than minorities. It doesn’t scare me, but I definitely work at creating content that I hope is different from others. My style is my style as I love fashion and I hate trends that I see on Instagram at times, and I blog about my real issues and not always about a fabulous sweater I found on sale. What I write seems to resonate as many of you read the personal stories and write me notes. I love hearing them and embrace the feedback.
Getting back to growing up as a first-generation immigrant, it was hard to balance embracing my culture and trying to fit into being “American”. My parents didn’t go to school here so I had to explain a lot of extracurricular activities to them and what they meant. In high school, all they kept saying was don’t drink, don’t do drugs, and don’t have sex and most of all DON’T GET PREGNANT. I mean every parent said that, but they were the typical strict Chinese parents who feared all the ads and movies they saw on TV. The main struggle I had was trying to fit in and be popular but also get A+ grades like all their Chinese friends’ kids and to live up to the comparisons to other Chinese students. I was never that smart, I’m book smart and I work hard, but naturally smart I was not. I knew early on I wasn’t getting into Harvard or Stanford and getting into the University of Washington was the least I could do. When I had all A’s and one B, the focus was on why I got a B. In high school all hell broke loose when I made the cheerleading squad and had a boyfriend. As a parent now, I understand it, as they were looking out for my well being and “fitting in” in high school was different here than in Taiwan. Being raised in a nice suburb, probably 80% of our school was Caucasian, and it made me acutely aware that I was different so I worked hard on fitting in. I distinctly remember my dad having a talk with me and early on he knew that social skills were important. He told me that grades are key, but having people skills and networking is a huge part of being successful here. The smartest person doesn’t necessarily get the job. I was able to do things like go to football games, basketball games, dances, and date, but it took a lot of talks and showing them that these things were part of growing up here for them to be a little bit more comfortable. They wanted us to have great social skills, but at times friendships and dating were harder for me as they were quite strict. I always had a curfew and they watched me like a hawk, but I loved high school.
There are some key elements of things I learned in growing up as a first-generation kid that I wanted to share.
- Acceptance and cultural differences must be taught to kids (and adults). As the only Chinese kid (besides my sister) in my elementary school, I had kids make fun of my narrow eyes and being “oriental”. People, let’s just stop saying oriental, I’m not a rug.
- Are you an “ABC” or “off the boat”? If you don’t know what I mean, ABC means American Born Chinese vs someone who is off the boat with an accent and more “Chinese”. Even we discriminate towards each other, but when I was growing up it sorted of mattered. I want to teach my kids to embrace each person for who they are and diversity is wonderful. There’s so much to learn from every culture and fitting in is just loving yourself and welcoming others.
- Let’s just bond over the fact that if you are Chinese you played the piano or violin, tennis or golf, and went to Chinese school for several years on a Saturday.
- Having our parents be competitive with our grades/stats is not just a Chinese way, Americans are competitive over sports, Chinese parents are over schools, grades, and money (lol).
- Food. I love that food has evolved, dim sum, dumplings, and seaweed are now considered by everyone as delicious, but I grew up eating it all. I remember bringing my lunch and having a boy tell me that what I was eating was disgusting and I bought hot lunch for the rest of my school years. I still remember how I felt. #1 above is extremely important to me. I tell my kids that it’s ok if they don’t like something but not to judge others.
- Fitting in and activities. I had a really hard time with this as I wanted to do what all my friends did. It took a while for my parents to be ok with slumber parties and high school was a battle (as mentioned above). But I’m sure we all had difficult experiences with our parents in high school, a lot of mine were cultural as they didn’t understand. My parents were doing the best they could while raising children in a country they hadn’t been raised in.
Overall, my deep struggle was how to embrace my own culture but fit in at school. I still struggle with this in the social media world. Just as in media, Asians are not hugely represented, but I’m happy to be unique in this space. I embrace that I am and my style and my lifestyle are different.
These are just a few of the things that stuck out to me as a first-generation kid. The below are things I learned from my parents that make me who I am.
- I can do anything. My parents definitely pushed me hard, made me figure out how to change failure into success, and evaluate what I could do better. I used to really struggle with this – feeling like they never saw the good but only pointed out the bad, but I embrace it now. It is why I problem solve the way I do and believe I can do anything. Plus my dad was an entrepreneur so I saw him succeed. We lived in low-income housing when I was 3 and by the time I was in high school, we lived in the best neighborhood with an incredible view.
- Seize opportunities, network your ass off, and don’t complain about the small stuff. We live in the United States, we have the freedom to succeed and to mold our path. I believe this, I experienced this and with my parents support I’ve been able to navigate different jobs and be successful at them. If you don’t have a job, don’t sit on your ass and complain. If you send 20 resumes and if no one calls, email and call them back three times, and send 20 more. What’s to complain about, there are jobs are out! We aren’t stuck doing the same job for 40 years anymore.
- Don’t be afraid of change. My parents moved across the world to start a life and create a better one for us without any family here. My dad has changed jobs several times and each time he figured out how to succeed but learned from his failures. I have moved to several cities, been through many relationships, had career changes (accounting to fashion), and although change is scary, I fully embrace change to figure out what I need to do.
I get called “strong” quite often, but I don’t always feel that way and don’t see myself that way. We have one life and I’m trying to live it to the fullest while raising two wonderful boys and support myself. I’ve been given opportunities and I chose to move forward to embrace them. And with the skills I was raised with and the memories I have growing up, I thank both my parents for everything they’ve done. I’m amazed by their resilience and thank them for giving me life here. xoxo
P.S. So I didn’t add these above, but these are things that have happened that are hilarious and stupid at the same time. Don’t ask Chinese people if they eat dog, mix up Thailand and Taiwan (I have had several men ask me to go to a Thai restaurant cause they found out I am from Taiwan, come on people), and say “you speak good English”. All of these have happened and has happened to others I know. LOL know geography, other cultures, and let’s just widen our knowledge to more than what is here in America.
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