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Ashamed to be Americanized.
The other day I was in the car with my grandmother driving to karate. First thing my grandmother does, every single time I shut that car door, is complain about everything.
Never have I heard such cynical remarks from my grandmother. Like, she usually is such a sweet person who usually never talks bad about anything. You bring up The USA? She goes insane. She can talk for hours and hours about how the economy is s*** (which I agree) and how you can't trust people. She has become so cynical about this country that she doesn't even want to leave New York state, or better yet our County because she fears the world. Only place that she would really travel to is back to Laos, our home country.
She doesn't know english well , and the job that she works at is paying her well, but the problem with her job is that she has become disabled in some ways. Her back gives out and she has had about five surguries on her right wrist, nothing is helping. She takes pills, about eight different kinds(I counted once). I worry for her so much. She has so many medical problems. My grandfather is well, I think, he might be having lung problems though. He doesn't know any english, he speaks pure Lao. They moved here about 28 years ago after escaping the war in Asia and caught the last ship to America.
They struggled to get to America where they thought that this would be a great place to live, when in all reality, they dread it here. They hate it, they keep telling me of memories they have of our home country Laos. They just want to go back and live there, where everything was more familiar to them. I can't stand seeing them miserable.
I enter my grandparents house and I see that they kept their old ways, just as if they were living in Laos. You can smell the aroma of spices as they cook some fish that my grandfather freshly caught that day. Then when I sit down to eat, the first thing I ALWAYS ask them is this "How many peppers did you put in this?" haha. I know, I feel pathetic. But man, if you don't ask that, you could be eating your last meal right there if you are not careful, the stuff that they make is freakin' spicy, and I am talking about you will cry when you SMELL that stuff, not even take a bite out of it yet. I have almost died about a two dozen times when I have eaten there...no joke.
I sometimes find shame in being americanized. I go to my temple and everybody speaks Lao. I understand them perfectly, I have no flaws when it comes to understanding what they are telling me. But when it comes to speaking it back, it's a different story. I feel completely detached from them. Speaking it is difficult. I am still trying to polish up my english right now. Lao is a different story. I know the words that I need to say, it's just that I feel like an idiot when I talk to them in my "american" accent. They laugh at me at times and I don't mean to sound like a mushy person who is uber sensitive, but after a while you shut up after realizing that you suck at something that you should be a master at.
The expectations of my Lao community are really high. I have to know Lao JUST as well as I know English. I need to be JUST as Lao AS I am American. I have to graduate High School as an Honors student and aim for a FULL scholarship to college and become somebody that makes a mark in the world(in their terms, be rich.). I also have to be the "perfect" Lao granddaughter and go to temple and look like a girly girl and wear traditional clothes and be discriminated at my temple because I am a young woman there and woman are treated lower than men.I am starting to buckle under all this pressure. The fact of the matter is they need to give me some slack. About more than half of my age group(or around my age) either have already dropped out of school, are failing in school or are pregnant and need to drop out. Then there is the small amount of kids that are doing fine for themselves.
The reason I brought up this topic is because when my grandmother recieved the news that I would be going to India next school year, she despised the news. She told me that I shouldn't be going to a different country and learning THEIR language, I should go to my home country and learn Lao better. She kept going on and on about how I wouldn't be safe there and this and that and just telling me that it wasn't a good idea without really having any significant reasons why. I felt a bit of shame when she told me that I should go to Thailand or Laos instead. She made it sound like I have turned my back on my culture, my people, my roots. I haven't and I wish I could thoroughly talk to her and tell her this; I hate this language barrier. It's like a one way mirror, I can see her and hear her, but she can't see me or hear what I am saying. It is frustrating.
Maybe I have turned my back on them. My mother even laughs at me at times because I can't speak correctly. I know that it's a tease, but it gets old after years of that ridicule.
I admit, I am americanized. I am so americanized that if you couldn't see color or features, I would be like any other american here, they wouldn't be able to see that I am not truly american. It has it's advantages, and in a way I am a help to my family who need it at times when it comes to going to the Bank, or reading mail because they can't read english.
I help them get groceries and I write checks out for them to sign so they can pay the bills that they are bombarded with. They have bought into so many commercial things, believeing what is shown to them on the outside is really a great deal, when really they can't see what is underneath these deals that they make with car companies, insurance places. I become furious at times because I feel like America is taking advantage of my naive grandparents, they don't know how to read the fine print or understand what people are saying to them. So when sales associates talk to my grandparents and try to convince that it is a good thing to do this or get that or buy this or that, then they go along with everything,trusting them. Somehow I can see how they can be untrusting of people now, they have been tricked into a lot of things. Then their bills stack up, along with medical bills from all the medication they have to buy and the surguries that they have to get.I try my best to help them when I can, telling them that "No, that is a scam" or telling the telemarketers to leave my grandparents alone. They become mad at me first because I sound disrespectful, but I just want to help.
I wish I could be what they want me to be though. They want me to be Lao like them and I am Lao, but in a society where English is mostly spoken, how do I do that? I am surrounded by american culture and I can't escape, yet my grandparents have found a way to shut themselves off from that. I don't want to shut myself off from it, but I want to have balance. I wish I could be what they want me to be. To be Lao and American at the same time. To speak fluently both languages and maintain that.To behave the way they see fit. I want to be the ultimate daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, sister. I wish that my family would be proud of me for once instead of seeing the flaws that I have just because I don't speak fluently or because the way I speak to them, which they take in as disrespectful at times, or the fact that I am not a typical girl, they see me as too masculine, they want to make me more feminine.
I wish that they would see that I am making every effort possible to make them proud. Even though I am not fully Lao, like they want me to be, I hold the hope that somehow, one day, I will hear these words from all of them: "We are proud of you, you have done great." How I wish I could hear these words sooner. And maybe I need to face the fact that I will never hear those words from anybody in my family.
I am not accepted for what I am. My family has not accepted that: yes, I am a tomboy, yes I don't like to wear dresses, yes, I can't speak fluently, and yes, I will not stand to be discriminated against just because I am a young woman. Yes, I want to be a writer and musician and not a doctor or lawyer.
I want to be able to be myself completely with my family, but I can't. I am starting to realize that I have become bitter around them because they can't accept me. They look down on me with utter shame. I cower as they talk to me because I feel can feel their frustration with me. So I become bitter and I push them away. They tell me that I am a failure at life. How lovely, right? Just because I am not what they want me to be.
They talk about other girls who are better than me in my Lao community. How this girl can speak better than me and how that girl has been to Laos and I haven't. How this girl is a lot prettier than me and how that girl knows her place in Lao community when I don't. It's a bit harsh, and yeah it hurts.
I love my family, I really do. I may say that I hate them at times, but I really love them. I love my family for all their flaws and all that baggage that they carry around from being scarred by memories of the war. I love them dearly, I would do anything for them and I mean anything, even if that means entering a stupid beauty pageant and wear heels and tons of make-up. I swear, that day I looked like a freakin' clown, it was awful, but I remember my grandparents face when they saw me. My grandfather smiled at me for the first time and my grandmother laughed with joy. For once, I was what they wanted me to be, but only that one time. It was the greatest feeling in the world though (I have kept that memory close to my heart), even though my feet suffered later from wearing 6 inch heals(ouchie).
On the surface, it does look like I hate them, but deep down in my fragile little heart, I love them to no end. But it is not that I hate them, I just hate the things they say to me. I hate the words that they say because they burn me.
In my community though, your family is your life. So if you dishonor them, if they are not proud of you and if you are not what they want you to be, then you have just lost everything. I don't want to lose my family, but I feel as if I am on the brink of losing them. Because I am not what they want me to be, and I don't think I can and will ever be what they want me to be.
I looked at myself in the mirror and I think to myself "Who am I?". I don't know anymore because I play a charade when I am with my family. I am not what they want me to be. And I hate myself because I can't be what everybody expects me to be. I am a failure in their eyes, I am a big disappointment.
And I can't help but say that line over and over: I am not what they want me to be. I can't be what they want me to be.
The sad part is: It's the truth, I can't and I never will be.
To my family: I am sorry.