California School of the Arts

Immigration & language

My parents learned to perfect their English from the television and from middle schools that ridiculed their broken speech of a new learned language. My parents were the first out of both their families to immigrate to America with a new dream in mind. We wanted to start a new life, and realized that would come with difficulty. Would this new place accept us for who we are?

After immigrating from Malaysia, our household was one of mixed culture. With broken English in-between fluent Mandarin, my sister and I learned a jumble of things. Yet, I never had a problem with pronouncing things incorrectly as an average elementary student. English clicked in my mind naturally, and even when my mother used the wrong noun or tense, it slipped from my mind that she was any different.

As a child, I was oblivious to the fact that other people weren’t as accepting until my mother began to ask my sister and me to teach her proper English. I was too young to understand the gravity of the situation and the mockery that other people made of my mother. Simple trips to Target and talks with the cashier, written emails, or conversations became a constant checking of grammar and word use.

“Coming from Malaysia, we have a hard time understanding American culture. For example, what they eat, how they share ideas, whereas us Chinese are more conservative and do not share ideas as openly,” my mother, Grace Gan, said.

Being a first-generation immigration and because of my family’s upbringing, I carry down this persona of being content in staying in a like-mannered group. Which is to say, I am usually attracted to creating friendships with those the same race as me, because they share the same cultures.

As an immigrant, my mother faced the harsh reality that the world doesn’t accept everybody. At most, we tolerate, yet in some cases, white women yell at Chinese workers to “go back to China.” We’ve spent decades trying to cross the line of toleration and acceptance; but I believe immigrants, like my mother, are the ones who will take the next step.