My family has always struggled with showing our affection for each other. A result of careful outward appearance it’s easier to do things behind the scenes than to allow people to see how much you’ve struggled — especially if you fail to do so. This wariness lends itself to often allowing our efforts to be glossed over or missed. Each and every one of us is a product of trauma caused from being first generation immigrants.
My family came over with $26 in their pockets. They were allowed in through the generosity of a sponsor family. My family’s history was born out of great desperation and due to that my family is scattered throughout the globe — any of us that could be together fought tooth and nail to do so. This struggle to keep familial bonds creates my understanding of family and what family means. In a lot of ways the struggle is to understand family and the idea of blood over water as the best method to surround ourselves with care.
As a family member born from a generation of refugees one of the first things you learn to accept is that you’ll never see your family actually tackle the trauma they faced in abandoning everything they know to start anew. There’s just too much. The language barrier, the new culture, the new relationships. Everything is a new start and it gets worse the older you are.
There’s a resentment that springs from losing everything. If you work your whole life but you have nothing to show because everything you know has been stripped from you how can you say working hard gets results? Especially when you don’t consider the actual work you do as working so much as surviving.
You Learn to Hide Your Efforts
There’s always a part of you that assumes you’re not trying hard enough. If the world tells you you just have to work hard then it’s easy to assume you just aren’t working enough. Of course it doesn’t help that for many people just existing as an immigrant does mean you aren’t working enough.
My aunts and uncles live in this lalala land where they think it’s a valid criticism to say my grandparents aren’t fluent in English when they had already been adults when they managed to bring their whole family to the other side of the world to be safe. Without the sacrifices of my grandparents my family wouldn’t exist but for many the issue is that they haven’t tried hard enough to assimilate.
They never talk about it. The only way they can communicate is blaming each other for why their lives aren’t the same as their American neighbors. My grandparents don’t want to burden their children with the trauma of a life that had to restart way too late and was still a product of having to survive living in a war torn third world country. My aunts and uncles never adopted to seeing the sacrifice and instead understand resentment because they just can’t be normal kids.
How do you call your children spoiled when your life’s work is making sure they can even survive?
There’s too much protecting and trying to shoulder on
My grandparents never learned to fight back in these moments. They take the abuse because they themselves were not the nicest people growing up. Their abuse was a product of their time — it wasn’t abusive if hitting your kids was simply the way things were. It wasn’t abuse to regulate your children with an iron fist if the alternative meant exposing them to even worst fates.
Now that they’re in the type of environment that cultivates healthy upbringings I can see them be sorrowful for what they thought was right at the time. So they endure abuse.
I’ve spoken up about it when I can. I’ve had shouting matches with my aunt about her inability to speak French since we are in a “English” society that also speaks French. My grandma grew up speaking French, where is the attempt to assimilate when you can’t speak the language of your parent’s childhood?Instead I’m known as the disrespectful child who can’t keep her nose out of other people’s business.
Respect is a way of maintaining rules without allowing logic
A losing argument is a way to bring out the lack of respect. If you argue then you don’t respect the order of things. It’s a quick and easy way to “win” an argument because you’re basically telling those around you they aren’t at the level to deserve an argument. You’re role as a subordinate is to listen.
How this translates to my siblings is that there’s still a hierarchy. The men in my family still take a priority and it’s not necessarily about age either — it’s just the role of men. The children don’t necessarily respect the men more but they respect that our parents respect the men more. So to stop antagonizing our parents we also pretend to do so.
For some of the men in my family it means growing up understanding that you’re somehow inherently better — there are enough men in my family who willfully abuse this fact and many who aren’t aware it’s a thing.
This need to protect means we’re not being truthful
There’s so much loss in my family. From my family’s beginning to the current every day is a gift so we’re meant to cherish all of our moments. It means we can’t focus on the pain and suffering that brought us here. We’re all trying our hardest to spare the other person so many of us just never talk about the truth. When you keep these things inside of you they fester. When our voices get louder and our demands grow stronger it’s like watching a train wreck except you’re a part of it. You’re watching the engine burst and the metal crack and splinter. All my family’s failure to communicate will come swinging by in that moment and my inability to solve the issue creates an even louder boom. And then it’s over. You go back to your everyday life and it’s the washing machine on rinse and repeat. Next time you think you can tell them what the actual issue is but you’re not sure everyone is speaking the same language.