Sunday, April 17, 2005

Being an Immigrant Kid Is a Tough Job... Or Is It?

Yesterday, I finally watched The Joy Luck Club. I say “finally”, because my Mom gave it to me about a month ago, and I kept procrastinating. Turned out to be a very good movie, very touching. I’m not telling this to my family for fear of being ridiculed and severely humiliated, but I went through a whole box of Kleenex while watching it!

The film is essentially about four families of Chinese immigrants, and their first-generation-American daughters. While I don’t have a daughter, one of the issues raised by the film applied to me and my children – the part when the parents try to push their children too hard. I think most immigrant families (at least the ones from the former Soviet Union, China, India, Japan, probably a few other countries) are guilty of it to some degree. I recall Kim having a post about the kids testing for a gifted program and a Japanese mom (if I remember it correctly) giving her son a motivational speech in the bathroom – something along the lines of, “if you fail this test, you’ll fail your family”. In the movie, one mother had her daughter playing chess on the competitive level, and the other one, not to be outdone, sent hers to a piano class. Both girls, in the movie, felt used by their parents.

While not all of us go that far, I have to confess that we all want our kids to have good grades, to be in honor/advanced classes, to get a good college education and to have a high-paying job and a good career. Actually, “want” is an understatement –most immigrant families feel that for their children, it is a matter of life and death. The barrier is raised high! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard other parents tell me, while simultaneously dying of embarrassment: “One time last year, he got all B’s on his report! Can you imagine? Of course, we grounded him, what else could we do?” (As for me, I have already seen the C’s and D’s on my son’s reports, so all B’s probably wouldn’t faze me).

I guess I never saw it from our kids’ standpoint until I watched the movie yesterday. The poor kids must be really confused. They must think we treat them as extensions of us, telling them how to live their lives. What if they really want to flip burgers all their lives? What if they want a degree in Liberal Arts? What if they really do not care for the money? Aren’t they allowed to make their own choices and live with the consequences of their own mistakes?

This is where I get conflicted. The way I see it, the reason why we push our kids so hard towards the “money-intense” professions is that we want the best for them. And, we’re not sure if we’ll be able to support them if something doesn’t work out in their lives. Heck, take my family. My parents were highly-skilled professionals all their lives, but they were already retired and in their sixties when they came here. They are on welfare now, and live in a government-subsidized apartment. We are doing well, but we’re busting our butts to save something. We have a house in a good school district (as you know, those ain’t cheap) and two kids to put through college. I’ll be surprised if we ever have enough to retire on. In other words, should my kids screw up their lives, they won’t have much of a support system to fall back on. That is why we are trying to teach them skills that could help them to be financially independent later in life. That is why we keep telling them that they will definitely need a scholarship to go to college. That is why we try to make sure they get into the gifted programs and advanced classes. Their children will probably have more choices. They don’t. I feel sorry for them, but such is life.

The problem I have is, right now, I12 started saying that he doesn’t care for his grades. Well, even if he doesn’t care for his grades, I do, because, as I said, he doesn’t have any room for error. How can I drill it into his stubborn teenage head, I have no idea. It makes me so mad! Then I see it with I12’s eyes and think to myself, “Wait, this isn’t fair. Why is it that born-American kids are allowed to get low grades, drop out, not go to college, or, on the other hand, pursue any major they want, and my son isn’t? Who am I to tell him how to live? This is his life, isn’t it?” I’m telling you, it’s so hard to be a wussy mother. Why cannot I just rule with the iron hand and not care what my kids think?

It must feel very odd being a first-generation-American kid. My children have my sympathy. As you can see from this post, they also have a misguided and confused parent who doesn’t know what to do next. Isn’t that just great?

The Goldie has spoken at 8:43 PM

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