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Love As We Know It: The Struggle Between First Generation Asian Americans and Their Parents

Written by Katherine Lam

Graphic by Tiffany Huang



They say that there are five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, quality time, and gift-giving. However, they never said that you would have to read in between the lines of what it takes to be loved.


As a First Generation Asian American, I was raised with strict rules and requirements hovering above my head, quietly trailing close behind. Instead of playing with my friends after school, I found myself at home working on a variety of workbooks. On the weekends, I was at piano practice instead of a classmate’s swimming pool because my parents didn’t know my classmate’s parents. Instead of riding my bike with the neighborhood kids, I sat at the kitchen table while my mother quizzed me on multiplication. If I came home with a bad grade, I would find myself in a full-blown lecture about how much I’ve been slacking. As I watched my fellow peers live their own lives free of any outstanding expectations, I found myself wondering what I did in my past life to deserve this. I wanted to have a seemingly normal life, where I could be a normal kid who didn’t have a care in the world. I truly thought that my parents hated me and wanted it to be known.


As I grew older, I slowly began to read between the lines, understanding why things were the way they were. As a child, I didn’t understand that my parents had a completely different upbringing. In my case, both of my parents were raised during the peak of communism in Vietnam, where they lived in fear of the government and the ongoing war between the North and South. Although they have never spoken about their upbringing during these times, it’s not hard to imagine what struggles they faced. In addition, due to the Vietnam War, their journeys to America weren't the smoothest. Even afterward, they struggled in the supposed “Land of the Free” where they found themselves in tough situations that have yet to be told to this day. Just the thought alone is brutal enough, one can imagine how traumatizing it would be to experience it firsthand. If taken into account the expectations their parents had for them, it automatically makes my upbringing, one that I believe many can relate to, seem like a piece of cake. As the years went by, I slowly begun to understand why my parents were the way they were.


They say that there are five different types of love languages, but they never said that each comes in various forms. Words of affirmation aren't always, “I love you,” or “I care for you” – they can come in the form of “No dating until marriage,” which directly translates to, “I don’t want to see you get hurt.” Acts of service aren’t always in the form of pampering – sometimes it's making sure you get to eat something in the morning despite already being twenty minutes late to school. Physical touch isn't always in the form of hugs and kisses. It can simply be the small readjustments on your clothes before you’re out the door. Quality time doesn’t just involve going on mini-day trips or watching your favorite movie together; it – can be the small amount of time that they have to be with you right after their 12-hour shift and right before your bedtime. Gift-giving isn’t restricted to a brand new phone or something that you’ve been wanting for for ages. Gift-giving can come in the form of sliced fruit, waiting for you when you finally come out of your room after a heated argument (bonus points if it’s on that one red plate that every Asian American household has).


Nowadays, I think back to my childhood. Though it wasn’t fun at the time, I can’t deny that it wasn’t full of love and support. I was cooped up within the walls I made for myself, refusing to take the fruit from my parents’ extended hands. Now as a young adult trying to navigate the real world on my own, I gladly accept fruit from those same extended hands, now wrinkled with years of hard work on full display. Despite them showing visible signs of aging, never once have they faltered, containing the same amount of love and affection as they did years prior.


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