I have always described my relationship with my mom with the words “close” and “strong”. For as long as I can remember, I have accompanied her while running seemingly mundane errands, such as buying groceries and going to the bank. Whenever I am out shopping with friends, I text her pictures of possible purchases so I can get not only a parent’s opinion, but also a best friend's. However, an aspect of being an adolescent includes some lack of communication with their parent. It’s natural for communication issues to arise between a child and their parent, for they are born years later and so much has changed in the world around them during that time. Although my mom and I have always found ways to change menial tasks into mother-daughter bonding time, we have a history of conflict due to the completely different environments in which we were raised.
The environment my mother grew up in was particularly sheltered, and rightfully so. In the late 1900’s, the Chinese government focused its efforts on rapidly improving the economy after decades of instability and poverty. Social issues were set on a back burner in twentieth century China, for they were not perceived by the general public to be as important as others, like healthcare and education. Where and when my mom was raised, LGBTQ+ rights and other social ethics were rarely topics of conversation in her home town, thus leading to her poor familiarity with them. Upon immigrating to the States, however, she was quick to learn that her new home was far from sheltered — social issues were discussed frequently in schools and on the news, and art advocating for them plastered billboards and the walls of buildings. While others formulated opinions and gathered information by discussing and debating evolving topics with their parents, I was raised in a conservative, protective Asian household.
Whenever conversations took place in my home regarding controversial issues, my mom would sternly say, “Just let them be, Oli. Don’t canjia (participate) in those marches. Stay away from situations like those, they are dangerous.” Whatever opinions I wanted to express were often shut down, simply because I did not want to challenge the beliefs of my mother. In spite of the disadvantages of growing up in a sequestered environment, I have never blamed my parents; they have always done everything for my brother and I. Due to the norms from my mother’s childhood and in developing China, she and other Chinese people believed only in what they were taught — the importance of a good education, respecting elders, and focusing on bettering themselves. Generations of families raised in China were taught social issues should not be dealt with at all.
Unlike my mom, I was born and raised in Austin, TX, the most liberal city in the Lone Star State. Up until early middle school, I was not totally aware of how social issues impacted others. Concerns that plagued others’ minds involving gender identity and sexual orientation hardly ever crossed mine. However as I matured, I have become more aware and educated on pressing issues not only presented in the news and across the world, but also in school and within friend groups. My differing views became apparent to my mom, and when topics like gay marriage and racism surfaced conversations, they almost always ended with an argument. These disputes challenged the overall harmony of our relationship, it felt like we didn’t know each other as well as we previously thought. My mother and I both learned to avoid situations like these; it felt like an invisible ethical barrier was wedged in-between us.
It wasn’t until my mom and I watched Moonlight —a highly accoladed film exploring identity and sexuality —together that the barrier vaporized. I felt very strongly that the movie did a great job highlighting many social issues people, especially marginalized youth, have been facing for decades. My mom, on the other hand, was on the fence about the movie’s message. As we watched, there were parts she didn’t understand; we had to pause several times so I could explain what was happening. Moonlight initiated a very deep, much-needed conversation regarding our different views on the LGBTQ+ community. This conversation made me step back and understand how someone, who has never been exposed to evolving, controversial topics, is trying their hardest to accept them. I had never realized before just how big of a part cultural differences can play in relationships, even in those as close as family.
Since my mom and I watched Moonlight and discussed its message, our relationship has undoubtedly strengthened. We continue to grow closer as topics, including racism and LGBTQ+ rights and feminism, become more present in conversation. Although my mom’s perspective may not completely align with my own, her acceptance and interest in my passion and willingness to discuss topics she is not educated in means more to me than the satisfaction of hearing “Oli, you are right. How could I have ever been so narrow-minded before?”.
Bridging the generation and culture gap between parents and their children does not come from changing each other’s viewpoints. Instead, it comes from putting forth effort to understand each other with an open mind, taking into account how their previous experiences influence their judgement. My mom and I don’t agree in every department — far from it, actually. The important message is that I understand now, how difficult it must be my mom to uproot to a country with values that completely differ from the ones of her own.
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