(from left to right) My dad Nhi Phun, myself, and my mom Mui Trinh
Gabrielino High School

Immigration & expectations

Grow up. Get a job. Give back to your parents.

That was the life sentence given to me in April of 2002, the moment I became an official Asian immigrant of the United States. I never tended to ponder upon it for long periods of time otherwise the pressure coupled with the stress of everyday life would threaten to overwhelm me, but as the time to depart for college drew near, I couldn’t help but factor it into my decisions for the upcoming future.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that there was an active demand for perfection in my household , but there was definitely a heavy burden that perched itself on my shoulders as I witnessed events unfold. My parents didn’t outright state that they were disappointed when my sister arrived home with her first B in high school nor could they do anything when my oldest brother chose not to pursue a college career in the midst of succumbing to illegal stimulants, but the unspoken despair lingered in the air for years. I watched on the sidelines, taking note of the mistakes I could not repeat for every time my parents questioned me about my future every other week, I knew that I had to have a practical plan. I matured with a voice in the back of my mind passively reminding me of the moral obligation I had to the people who raised me, but eventually I came to a standstill as my wants conflicted with my responsibilities.

The disapproval my parents had for my ideals appeared gradually, or perhaps it occurred that way because I refused to acknowledge it in hopes that it would disappear. However, as time passed, their backhanded support never ceased to stir unwanted emotions within me. They congratulated me for receiving straight A’s on my report card but sighed every time they had to drive me to basketball practice. They cheered when I won a writing scholarship but laughed when I told them that I aspired to become an author. I gained validation when they complimented me but felt disheartened when they didn’t, and stuck on a never-ending roller coaster of emotions where I could never simply be happy, I struggled to find a path that best suited me.

I’d like to say that the expectations Asian parents impose upon their children are not as high as the world depicts them to be, but I’d be lying because a lot of them are. To add upon that, the bar of expectations only doubles when one is an immigrant or the first or second generation after. Now, the stakes are even higher because someone abandoned their entire lives for you to obtain the education and opportunities that America offers. Of course, you have to pay them back, but how much is enough?

I struggled to answer this question for the longest time, and it wasn’t until my sister pointed a particular observation out to me that I began to see the errors of my ways.   

I had sat on the couch in my living room speaking my worries to my sister at around 4 a.m. in the morning – as most siblings do –  when she called me ridiculous for having the thoughts that I did. Confused, I asked her what she meant before she responded with a question herself. She asked me to think about how much time I actually spent with our parents on a regular basis compared to the amount I spent on school and my countless extracurricular activities. I immediately opened my mouth to respond but closed it soon after when I realized that my mind could not come up with an answer. After a minute or two, I discovered that the only answer I really had was “not much”.

However, being the ignorant teenager that I am, I still struggled to comprehend the message my sister was trying to convey, so I asked her what her point was. She then bestowed upon me another question that forever changed the way I went about in my normal life: “If that’s your answer, then what gives [our parents] the right to dictate your entire life?”

With that, the cogs in my brain churned before reversing and settling back into their original positions as if they had finally been given the right instructions. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly stand by the belief that children should be grateful for everything their parents do for them, but a line had to exist somewhere. I will eventually be able to show my appreciation to my parents for all of their sacrifices, but first I needed to find security and happiness with myself. The moment I realized this is the moment I began to perform actions with real purpose.

Today, I am currently working diligently to achieve my dream of one day entering the writing field professionally. My parents brought me to America in order for me to be successful and I plan on accomplishing that but in my own way. Maybe it’s not exactly what they had in mind for me, but I am doing what I love. I am an Asian immigrant of the United States, and I have chosen to take full advantage of the education and opportunities provided for me.