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Life Bridging the divide: an American girl with a Chinese mother

Sep. 28, 2018
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As much as I tried to be like my classmates, I felt a divide between us. I didn’t know any Beatles songs, and I didn’t know what meatloaf tasted like. Growing up as a first-generation American, my parents were never able to raise me like a typical American kid. While I spent my childhood surrounded by TVs and smartphones, my parents had walked miles to get to school and lacked modern technology. Our differences were reflected in my upbringing. 

While all of my friends were wearing "High School Musical" backpacks, singing its soundtrack, and talking about Troy and Gabriella, my mom told me I had to wait until high school to watch the movies—because of the words “high school” in the title. While my friends were playing outside, my mom made me memorize the times table indoors. While other kids were sent to church on Sundays, I attended Chinese School, where I took weekly quizzes and learned about cultural holidays—starting when I was four years old. 

Having this distinct barrier between me and my peers, I found myself constantly engulfed in arguments with my mom. I resisted her, detested her for depriving me of what I thought was a normal childhood. Seeing other girls going out for mani-pedis with their mothers, I felt jealous that I couldn't have that kind of friendship with my mom. When people think of a first-generation American, they imagine us balancing two cultures in terms of things like cuisine and language. But for me, it was learning to bridge the distance between me and my mother—two individuals who are expected to have a close relationship, but instead are polar opposites.

“You don’t understand me!” That’s the phrase I always yelled at my mom. I wanted her to understand me so that she could let me go to sleepovers, so that she could support my Taylor Swift obsession. Instead, she felt puzzled by the concept of sleepovers and she had no idea who the blonde girl on the posters in my room was. I wanted to share my interests with her, to be able to tell her about my life without her asking me a million questions and still being confused. But just like she couldn’t understand me, I couldn’t understand her.  

As I grew older, the divide between my mom and me evolved. It was during the 2016 election between Hillary and Trump when the divide between me and mother became truly apparent. With the past elections in my life, I had followed my parents and blindly rooted for John McCain in 2012 and Mitt Romney in 2008. I remember feeling disgusted by Barack Obama and repeating what I’d heard my parents saying about him. But by the time of the 2016 election, Barack Obama was my favorite president and I cried knowing he had to leave office.

The first time I approached my mom about politics, I was excited to explain my support of Hillary Clinton. Not only would she be the first female president, but she also had a lot of great proposals, such as allowing students to come out of college debt-free. But as I spoke, a cloud came over my mom's face. With each policy I raved about, I saw her eyebrows furrowing. Despite all of our differences in upbringing, I had expected my mom to immediately agree with me on these serious issues and support my views. I’d been used to my friends agreeing with all of my political beliefs, but suddenly I was faced with opposition—from my own mother. 

I couldn't believe it. How could my mom support Donald Trump? She is an immigrant and a woman, and Donald Trump is openly against both of those core identities. As she kept speaking in support of Donald Trump, aligning with his economic and social viewpoints, I felt contempt rise up within me. How could my mom be so close-minded? My words streamed out of me, attempting to convince her that her views were utterly wrong. Yet like me, she was stubborn.

When Donald Trump won the presidential election, I realized that there are a lot of people like my mother. Thus, I began to put myself in my mom's shoes—not so I could agree with her, but so that I could begin to understand where she was coming from. I realized that she had never gotten to know someone from the LBGTQ+ community in her life; in growing up in a culture which strictly promoted abstinence, she had never become familiar with resources such as Planned Parenthood; the laws under which she’d grown up were far more restrictive and conservative than Trump's, so in a way she was becoming more progressive. I realized that it was easy for my mom to side with Trump, not because she didn't know better, but because of what she did know. 

Just like I wouldn't change my views, I know that it would hard to change my mom's. Rather than existing within a constant cycle of trying to convince her, failing, and becoming frustrated, I’ve realized that I'd rather have a Republican mother than a mother I would never be able to talk to again. My mom and I come from opposite ends of the world and we have opposite points of views; I will never fully understand her, and she will never fully understand me. But "to each her own" represents balance and sacrifice. More important than blind agreement is listening to and respecting one another.