Dear Mom and Dad,

I know you are not ready to hear this. I understand it is difficult, I could not accept it myself;[1] , since I knew it would invite disappointment. But today I have to tell you the truth, the truth about me. I have had to suppress my feelings for a long period of time. I think it is time I come clean, regardless of what you have to say or think. Believe it or not, I am suffering from depression.   [Read More] [Close]

Though it is easy for me to say in a letter, I cannot say this to your face, because I know the disappointment I would bring. The culture you grew up in taught you not to believe in the concept of therapy and counseling, while also teaching you that mental illnesses such as depression do not exist. Your culture acknowledges that depression is a mental illness, but it puts the emphasis on the individual suffering from the illness. Your culture claims it is the individual’s fault that they are depressed, that it is in their head. But I am here to tell you that your culture [2] and what it taught you were [3] wrong. Depression is not in my head, or in anyone else’s. No one wants to live with depression.

I am writing this letter to tell you that your parents, your teachers and the community you grew up in were wrong. They all played a part in deceiving you, because the truth is, a community of Muslims in Pakistan do not decide how other people feel about themselves. How can others decide what my experiences are, and how those experiences affect me along with my mental health? After accessing therapy and psychiatry services for free at my University, [4] I have been given a better understanding of myself and what contributed to my depression. Yet again, I cannot share these thoughts with you because when I try you tell me the same thing, “You aren’t depressed, it’s all in your head, focus on yourself and lose weight.”

I have always felt bad about myself, which has been an ongoing issue that affects me every day. I do not always feel satisfied with my life, as if I am a disappointment in many ways, as if I am not the child you wanted because I am not the skinniest, the most obedient or the smartest. I feel that everything about me is wrong to you. My weight bothers you because you want a proposal to come to your house from a boy at the Mosque. You believe that if I do not[5] lose weight, then that day will never come, and I cannot only blame you for having these thoughts because it is true, maybe that day will never come because along with you, other people at our Mosque think I’m too heavy. But, if I never get a proposal because of my weight then I am happy that way. My weight does not define my worth as a human and it does not by any means tell you how I am as person. That is something that needs to get known by others. Part of me is astonished you want a son-in-law who loves me for my looks rather than myself which plays into my depression overall. Because you, along with the Muslim community, make me feel like I cannot be loved by anyone unless I drop the weight. Love should never be conditional, especially from parents.

I should be able to tell you these feelings, but again I cannot because you will not understand its connection to depression. You will just look at me funnily and say, “D[6] rop the weight and your problems are gone” just like you have every time I tried to explain it to you. Our differences of mindsets cause us to quarrel because you do not see that my mental health and low self-esteem both play a huge factor into my ability to form relationships. If only I could openly tell you how it really felt to be me on a daily basis and have you understand where I’m coming from, I think we could be in a better place than we are now. However, my thoughts and feelings are constantly dismissed, which is why I cannot express these to you in words.

My depression is not the only problem I face, I also have severe anxiety. My anxiety is mostly triggered by our home life. I know that we come from a lower class because of being immigrants, who do not have much education. Seeing both of you sacrifice a lot of your own needs for me and to give me the best opportunities makes me thankful. Along with being thankful it breaks my heart too. I know more [7] than you think I do, I see the tiredness in your eyes from waking up at 4 in the morning, leaving at 5, and not returning until 6. I see the weakness in your hands and feet from working all day long. I see more than you think and realize more than you believe me to.

Why this gives me anxiety? It makes me realize that I have to do amazing in school to prove to you raising me wasn’t a waste. To prove you didn’t waste your time, or that I wasted yours, and to not be labeled as a disappointment. Because of this fear, I live in constant anxiety of screwing my life up, because all I want to prove is that you made something out of me, which is why I take getting into nursing school very seriously and have dedicated myself to endless days in the library, and being dependent on coffee. I want you to know someday that traveling to a new country with no family as a support system paid off. But then again, I still cannot share these thoughts with you because I know that if talking about this breaks my heart, it breaks yours too. So I’ll leave you to read this and try to understand where I am coming from regarding my mental health.

Yours Truly,
 Hear Me Out

There are some things that I would like to get off my chest, however, I do not have the will to say it to your face since you have sacrificed so much for me and my siblings. I wanted to ask, why were you guys never there? Why did you never attend my orchestra performances or badminton matches when everybody’s parents had flowers and banners for their children? Why did I have to walk home alone in the dark after every performance and badminton games? I envy those kids that have parents that carry flowers or banners. I want you guys to see how much work I put into each piece of music or each practice.   [Read More] [Close]

Why do you always have to come home at midnight every day? Do you know how much that scares me? Thinking you guys had an accident along the icy roads or getting shot while working. Or you might throw your backs out while lifting the French fry bags that weigh like 20 pounds. Or get burned from the oil. There are so many things that can happen that I might not know about.

Another thing I feel is this immense guilt. This guilt that I can never get rid of and it weighs me down every single day. Some days I can’t breathe and other days I cry myself to sleep because of the sacrifices you did to bring us to America for a better education. I’m sorry you had to leave your family behind. You left your siblings and mother you cared so much about. And I am not even that good of a daughter. I yell at you guys and get annoyed, but I am trying to be better. But that is not working out, so the best I can do is get the best grades as much as possible. I study a lot, more than you can imagine. I am not like other kids who can memorize everything, I must study for hours. I know you do not care if I get one B or two B’s, however, every single time I get a B, I feel like I have let you down. I am so sorry. But I promise to get a really good job and take care of you for the rest of my life.

Mom, I know you left a really good job. I know you loved being a nurse in the emergency room. I know because every single time you talk about your college days and the days you worked as a nurse, you had that longing look. I know you missed a chance to become the director of your department. I know that when you had to decide to come to America or become the director, you chose us. I am sorry that your friends all became professors or directors while we are just barely making things work at the fast food restaurant. I know that the customers do not respect you at work. I also know that they say hateful, racial attacks on you everyday and how they egged our car, popped our tires, and wrote all over our car. All you wanted to do was make a living and to send your children off to college. I know, and I am sorry for all the things they put you through. I also know how bad your knees are getting. I know that you stand for 12 hours a day taking orders and making hamburgers. Since you are nearing your mid-fifties, you can’t even walk up the stairs, and Dad cannot bend his back anymore. Please wait until I graduate college. I will take you out of that hell and give you guys a life you never had.

Dad, I am so sorry for sounding annoyed and snapping at you every single time you talk. But [1] something that you should do is go to the doctor more often. Self-medication is dangerous and visiting the doctor does cost money, but it is better than taking the wrong medicine or building a tolerance to certain medications. You guys have never taken a day off since you came to America or taken a week or month off for vacation. You leave the house at 10 am and come back at 11 pm or midnight. You work for 6 days a week. Even though I go to school for only 5 of those days, I applaud anyone who has never taken a sick day till the day they graduate. But you guys have done it for 15 years. Dad, you are waiting till everyone graduates to go back to Thailand and take care of your mom. We tell you that you can go now, we will be okay. Your son already graduated and has a job right now, and he will eventually go to medical school. I will graduate in 3 years and our little one will graduate in 4 years. It is okay, we can take care of ourselves now. You can go, I know you miss your mom. You have not seen her in 15 years. Go. It is okay.

There are things that I am grateful for and I do not know why it is so hard for me to say, “Thank you” or “I love you”. You guys say it all the time to us. Thank you for giving life to me and thank you for giving me a protective older brother and a reliable younger sister. Dad, thank you for waking up at 5 in the morning to make me my breakfast and before you leave, cooking us our dinners. Mom, thank you for driving me to school everyday and taking care of me when I am sick. I love it when you pat me on the head and coming back home to kiss us goodnight. There are so many things that I am thankful for but thank you for raising me and thank you for being such great parents. I hope to be as great of a parent as you guys have been to me.

Thank you so much for everything and with much love,

Your eldest daughter
A Letter To My Daughter

You were sitting among a band of teenagers, in a light purple velvet dress, elegantly holding a silver flute. You glanced at the audience and gave me a confident smile. As the conductor raised the baton, soft nostalgic music echoed around the hall. The music was like a gentle breeze seeping into my heart and flipping open a book of memories.

It was memories about you, my dear daughter.
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It started with a scene about 10 years ago. You were a fearless little girl, short black hair framing your round face perfectly. Your character and appearance won you the nickname[1] “Little Dora.”

You were indeed an explorer. A glittering rock, an intermittent buzzing of crickets, or a fresh dewy flower could all capture your curiosity. When your tiny hands, you stroked the soft ears of the huge husky in our neighbor’s backyard, and my heart almost pounded out of my chest. When you knelt down, digging dirt and examining earthworms, I was counting how many more loads of laundry I had to do in a week.

Your little head was filled with questions. There were no questions that were too silly for you to ask, only questions too hard for me to answer. “Mom, why are cucumbers called 黄瓜(yellow melon) in Chinese although they are not yellow?” “Why are pomegranates called 十六(16; sound of “石榴” ), not 十八 (18)?”

My favorite moment of a day was when I picked you up from your daycare, when I was greeted with your beaming smile and biggest hugs. You couldn’t wait to tell me about your new friends, stories told by your teachers, and rewards you won from challenging games. On the way home we often sang out loud, followed by a long cheerful laughing.

As you entered school age, we slowly moved into a new chapter characterized with homework, group projects, extracurricular activities, and various contests. Your favorite clothing was no longer a princess dress, but graphic tees and jeans. Your hair grew longer, hanging down over your shoulders or tied back in a ponytail. My baby girl was blooming into a tall, slim adolescent girl, brimmed with life and hope.

Our life got busier. I drove you around the town after school and during weekends, rushing from music classes to swim practice, from the Chinese school to ballet school. Our together time in the car was featured with either basic questions and answers like “How’s your school?” “Good,” or pure quietness. Both of us seemed to be too tired to initiate any interesting conversations.

During family dinner time, our conversation was often centered on school work, swim meet schedules, and your test scores. After dinner, you would retreat to your bedroom, telling us you still had homework to work on.

I gazed at your back, wondering what was widening the distance between us. I fantasized that I could travel back in time to get your muddy high fives, to sing “She'll be coming round the mountain” with you, and to be baffled by your funny “silly” questions. Those are sweet memories always cherished, but I have to face the fact that you are a teen now.

Growing up in China, I had no clue about a teen’s life in the United States. At your age, I strived for high scores in all subjects, taking pride in winning the first place in tests. But I wanted your teen years to be different from mine. You should take time to learn about different aspects of life, to develop responsible values and independent thinking, and to explore your real passion and interests. I wondered how I could best play my role as a mom in this process.

There must be a door to enter your heart, and to get hold of the key needs a lot of love, understanding, and patience.

For me, the great moment came on a Friday evening. You were writing in your pink leather journal in your bedroom, door half-open and soothing music on. My strong curiosity prompted me to pace into the room.

“Allie, what are you writing about?” I asked, trying to sound casual.

“A story,” you said and looked up.

“Can I read it? I love reading stories,” I requested, not sure whether I could get a positive response.

You hesitated, but still handed the journal to me.

It was a story about a girl who lost her dog, her dearest friend. It was a beautiful piece of creative writing with rich emotion and vivid language, still missing an ending. As I leafed through your journal, stories recording meaningful moments in your daily life flied out of pages: your excitement in anticipating an overnight field trip, your amazement at seeing birds flocking to our garden, and your sadness when learning a friend was leaving for Japan. You poured out your strongest feelings and deepest thoughts on paper.

How come I had not noticed your passion in writing? How come I had never told you that writing is also my love?

“Allie,” I turned to you, draping my arms over your shoulders. “I liked your articles. I see your talent and passion in writing. There are a few sentences I would probably write differently.”

“How? I’d like to know,” you asked, eagerly, which reminded me of the days when I was pestered with all kinds of questions popped out of your little mouth.

I put forth my opinions on several wordings and sentences, while you listened attentively and jotted down notes on the margin of pages. Then you asked me to stay longer to help you frame the ending, which I accepted with a smile.

Writing became a bridge between us, ideas passing from your brain to mine, and vice versa. Sometimes, we snuggled beside each other and chatted until night wrapped the day in its dark blanket. We plotted out stories, gave names to our characters, and debated on the best verbs to describe actions. Some discussion led to a burst of laughter, leaving your dad, who was eavesdropping, totally puzzled.

As those scenes unfolded in front of me, tears moistened my eyes.

Suddenly, the beat of a lively music shook me out of my thoughts. It was the last song of today’s concert - an exciting song - rhythm filled with energy and vitality. My eyes were locked on you while you were pressing the flute to your lips and blowing into it. A rosy glow covered your youthful face.

I was living in and enjoying the present, basking in the brisk melodies. Life presents itself in ebbs and flows, and I will embrace whatever it brings us with you, just as we will write our own stories together.
An Open Letter to Mama,
 

‘Did you eat yet’, meant ‘[1] I love you’. ‘Are you warm’, meant ‘I am proud of you’, and ‘You must work hard in school’ meant ‘[2] We do not want you to go through the same hardships we have’.

A decade ago, I was incapable of deciphering the cryptic meanings behind these phrases. Now, ten years later, I am barely beginning to understand the significant impact differences in generation, upbringing, and circumstances had on the way we communicated as a family.

Navigating through our conversations was more difficult than completing the challenging Sudoku puzzles you had me complete as a child. At the time, I did not understand that actions meant much more than words, that the sacrifices you and Papa made[3] were for me, and that your constant absence at home was to provide us all the opportunities you and Papa lacked.   [Read More] [Close]

Despite attempts to understand, I never succeeded at comprehending the true symbolism behind your words and actions. It was only recently that I am able to feel how you both illustrated love through conduct. Today is my first attempt at communicating transparently with you both, after 24 years of life. I write with apprehension, hope, and aspirations that this letter might serve as a conversation starter between immigrant parents and their Asian American children. My goal is that I can illuminate the complexity of our relationship, the impact of generational differences, and the importance of working to meet in the middle ground in order to establish open dialogue in modern Asian American homes.

At age 15, I felt our relationship paralleled a professional working relationship; I was expected, as a female Asian American, to remain reticent and obedient. You have always said: “You are a girl, and girls must never speak up, especially to their parents.” I responded: “Why”. I immediately regretted the question because the answer was always: “Because we said so”. In retrospect, “professional”, might be a rather generous term to describe our exchanges.

As a junior in high school, I was balancing extracurricular activities, college application, jobs, and classes, including the worst supplementary weekend writing courses you both enrolled me in. Lacking any sense of independence, I felt trapped, and distressed, which led to the several months of my absence and zero communication after leaving for college a year later. My conflicting emotions of stress, frustration, and loneliness were[4] a forbidden topic for our weekly family dinners. Papa always said: “No tears… emotions make you weak, think with your brain, not your heart”. Thus, I kept all of my feelings bottled up, and putting your desires above my own. You both wanted evidence of scholastic achievements, and I made sure to deliver that. Nothing more, nothing less, despite my dream of communicating that your high academic expectations, specific behavioral etiquette, and tight reins on my independence were unhealthy for my emotional and physical well-being. For a while, I failed to believe your intentions were pure.

You and papa always told me that at age 15, you both were escaping the war, violence, and turmoil in China. You both witnessed deaths, experienced the worst human conditions one could imagine such as starvation and disease. Escaping to America was imperative, but it was also to grant me a life of opportunity. After moving to America, your inability to speak English was an obstacle for professional jobs, so you and Papa resorted to working labor intensive jobs seven days a week to provide for the family.

As a child, I was oblivious to the fact that your absences were symbolic of your love for me, [5] at the time, I misunderstood absence for avoidance. I was envious of my peers who had their family around, parents who could speak perfect English, verbal phrases and formal expressions of love. In hindsight, I see that I was a foolish child, and for that I am a thousand times sorry.

You both were raised differently, in a world where ‘actions spoke louder than words’. As a first generation Asian American, words expressing love were more common amongst my peers, and emotions were encouraged in Western culture. Our disparities in upbringing, location, and generational values drastically strained our relationship.

Many of my peers have also experienced strained communication with their parents who immigrated to America. Our values are different. While you and Papa believed the key to a good life were: job security, maintaining Chinese female etiquette, finding a stable husband, and building a family. I believed it was important to pursue my passions, assert myself, and focus on happiness. I was unaware that, happiness was all you and Papa wanted for me, rather the way it was communicated was indirect, which led to misunderstanding.

Immigration to America itself already presents a myriad of challenges for individuals. Furthermore, generational clashes between immigrant parents [6] and American born children address a vital need for both parties to develop empathy for each other, open-mindedness, and willingness to learn about current trends in parenting, communication, and values. It is imperative that emotion is encouraged, in hopes that unforced, genuine, sincere exchanges can happen often. It is also vital Asian parents become aware that mental health is of equal importance to physical health, and dialogue should incorporate emotional wellbeing instead of solely physical symptoms.

To conclude, I write this letter today, knowing fully that the sacrifices you and Papa made were a commitment to my happiness and livelihood. I write this letter as a promise to continue working on our communication differences. But most of all, I write this letter with love, and hope that immigrant parents, like you and Papa, and their second[7] -generation children can learn to adapt, be flexible, understand the breadth of diversity between parents and children, and hear your children out.

I end with a question to you Mom: Have you eaten yet?

Love,

M

Judge's Choice

A Letter To My Parents,

Dear Mom and Dad, I hope you never read this. Even though we are an affectionate family, sharing feelings is not easy for us. I have so many things I want to tell you guys, so many things I want to say, but I am too cowardly to say it to your face. This letter contains some of the thoughts I am too scared to share with you, but maybe the act of writing it will give me the courage to express how I feel.   [Read More] [Close]

Dad, it must have been difficult, growing up in a rural village in 1970s India. From what you have told me, you were a sensitive and shy boy growing up in a culture saturated with toxic masculinity. You were bullied, so, inculcated with the societal ideals of what a man should be, you searched for ways to earn the respect of others. You attempted to harden yourself against insults, becoming closed off and supercilious in the process. You did not want to show anyone your soft underbelly. You did not feel comfortable truly confiding in anyone, and I can only imagine how lonely you must have felt.

Dad, I wish you could be vulnerable with someone, anyone. You keep everything to yourself. There is so much going on below the surface that you never talk about. You may not want to feel certain emotions, but I know you do. You do not know what to do with your feelings of isolation and depression, which can lead to frustration. Maybe, if you were able to express your emotions, you would be happier. And, honestly, that is all I want to see—you truly happy.

Mom, I wish you were not in so much pain. You, like Dad, feel all alone in the world, and I wish you could talk to each other about those feelings. I worry about you sometimes. I have seen the suicide notes, the ones where you ask God to just let you die already. I initially reacted with anger, wondering how you even consider the possibility leaving me alone. I know now that it was never about me, that you never meant to hurt me. You were just in so much pain, and you needed a way out. I know you still feel that pain, and I wish I could do something about it. I wish you did not feel as if your life was directionless and pointless, because I need you. I will always need you, even as I try to establish my own identity. I hope you know that. That being said, Mom, I cannot be your reason for existence. I cannot handle that kind of pressure. I wish you had a support system outside of our immediate family, someone you trusted and could talk to. I cannot be your best friend; I cannot take on all of your sadness. I know it is selfish of me, but I cannot always be there for you. I’m sorry.

Mom and Dad, I sometimes wish you were different people. I sometimes wish you were different people, because I sometimes wish I was a different person. I have blamed you for my social awkwardness and diffidence. I have blamed you for my anger and my arrogance born out of insecurity. I have blamed you for my difficulties with relationships and with my weight. That is not fair to either of you though. I am past the age where I can continue to blame you for my issues, and it is up to me to work on them. Besides, if I am going to blame you for my failings, I also have to acknowledge everything you have given me. Dad, you taught me how to think critically about myself and the world, and I have inherited your dark sense of humor. Mom, you have shown me how to be loving and considerate, and I admire how selfless you can be. You have influenced the person I am today, and, in spite of how flawed I am, you both still love me. Thank you for that.

Mom and Dad, I love you. I know I say it when you guys call me everyday, but I need to let you both know that I love you as you are. Yes, I get frustrated with you all (as I am sure you do with me), and, yes, I want you to recognize that you have issues that you need to address. But I say that because I care, because it hurts me to know that you two feel so isolated and burnt out. I just want you both to be happy. Maybe someday, I can get this message across to you, but, for now, just know that I love you and am grateful for everything you have given me. For what it is worth, you guys can be pretty cool.

Sincerely,

Your Daughter

Random Rumblings of a Great Sandwich

Ours is the greatest generation, ours is the craziest generation. We are the Baby Boomer Generation that is also the sandwich generation between our parents’ Greatest/Silent Generation and our children’s Generation Y/Z (see Table 1). We are the Chinese-born Americans (CBA) sandwiched between our Chinese-born Chinese (CBC) parents and our American-born Chinese (ABC) children. We are the sandwiched CBA baby boomers. We are the sandwiched “me” generation. We are the meat of our sandwich. We are dead meat.   [Read More] [Close]

Table 1 - Names of Generations
Generation Name Births Start Births End Youngest Age Today* Oldest Age Today*
The Lost Generation - The Generation of 1914 1890 1915 103 128
The Interbellum Generation19011913105117
The Greatest Generation1910192494108
The Silent Generation192519457393
Baby Boomer Generation194619645472
Generation X (Baby Bust)196519793953
Xennials - 197519853343
Generation Y - The Millennials - Gen Next198019942438
iGen / Gen Z19952012623
Gen Alpha2013202515

(*if still alive today) (Source: https://www.careerplanner.com/Career-Articles/Generations.cfm)

We CBA baby boomers share many common characteristics of our fellow baby boomers who must deal with those characteristics typical of our parents’ and children’s generations (see http://www.marketingteacher.com/the-six-living-generations-in-america/). We share the pains and challenges of our fellow boomers at large. What sets us apart are our cultural heritages. To preserve some of our heritage and to maintain most of our sanity, we become the open-minded guardians of our parents’ traditions and values, and we become the bold co-creators of our children’s. We become the diligent intergenerational communicators and multilingual translators among our three generations. We become the dutiful interpreters of English and Chinese languages (including Chinglish, Mandarin, and other regional dialects) used in our families and communities. We are the indispensable arbiters between our young and our elders. We are the great cultural mediators between the East and the West.

In Confucian philosophy, which our parents and ancestors have selectively adopted for their needs, filial piety is the virtue and duty of respect, obedience, and care for one's parents and elderly family members. It is considered the highest moral obligation, akin to a birthright, of our parents’ generation and generations past. We are morally obligated to honor our parents’ wishes without questions, or else we are condemned. Starting with our generation, however, practicality of filial piety becomes questionable. Our parents were expected to feed, clothe, and shelter us when we were young, and expect the same in return when they become old. We are similarly expected to feed, clothe, and shelter our children when they were young, but we can no longer expect the same from them reciprocally when we grow old. Our parents may claim their right to live with us and be cared for by us when they get old. A retirement community or nursing home is most likely our only option when we get old. For better or for worse, filial piety is dying with our generation. It did not start with us, but it will end with us. May it rest in peace when we rest!

Children’s education remains the highest priority for us, as for our parents before. Learning from books has many rewards - fame, power, golden mansions, and gorgeous beauties – or so we were told. Now we tell our children to study hard, play hard, read e-books, and follow Instagram and tweets. Things may change over time, but kids’ preference of learning from their own mistakes over listening to their elders remains mostly unchanged. Academic achievement is no longer the only criterion of success for our children in schools. Participation in a wide variety of individual and team enrichment programs involving bands, music, sports, and other extracurricular activities becomes an essential part of modern educational experience. Admission into gifted and talented programs and selective colleges or universities is a serious business requiring serious early planning that includes entrance exam and essay preparation classes, and individualized and professional coaching. Selecting or switching to a more profitable major or degree program requires careful planning. An advanced degree from a prestigious medical, law, or business school is ideal for our bragging rights, whereas a science or engineering degree is barely acceptable. Liberal arts? What liberal arts? Don’t even think about it! Lifelong learning is merely a profitable means to our children’s lifelong success and happiness.

With a M.D., J.D., MBA or PhD on hand, life can be grand. Indeed, life can be very grand at $200 grand a year, and the more the merrier. True, money may no longer buy complete happiness. But money can still enhance our happiness in small doses, one grand at a time. Necessities like education, health care, housing, transportation, food, and clothing all require money before other higher joys of life. Life without adequate money for our physiological and security necessities and other social and egocentric joys cannot be too happy. We must provide financial resources to our children and parents when needed. We become the family bankers and ATMs. We are our family’s money trees. We worry about money and happiness all the time. We worry about tradeoffs and balance between money and happiness often. While our parents tend to value money over happiness, our children may value happiness over money. We value money and happiness over ourselves. We work hard to earn money and gain happiness, we then slave over both. We become slaves of money and happiness.

We value family over ourselves. Family has values, and we have family values.

Regardless of our cultural heritage, families usually start with marriages. Arranged marriages of our parents’ generation is now old-school. The trend of delayed marriages of our children’s generation worries us. We worry about our children marrying too soon or too late. We worry about our children marrying too high or too low. We worry about them marrying someone with potentially incompatible or incomprehensible culture, language, race, religion, political stance, mental and physical states, financial and social standing, and/or sexual orientation. We worry about being politically or morally incorrect on marriage and too many other things. We worry about being accused of having incorrect or fake family values. We worry about incorrectly communicating our values to our parents, children, and others. We worry way too much about too many things.

Those worries seemingly unique to our sandwich generation are but the tip of the iceberg of our worries. Far too many of our worries are cross-generational and even universal. Many of our worries transcend generations and are compounded by the increasing complexity and multitude of our physical, mental, and social environments. Indeed, we live in the most interesting yet worrisome era aggravated by our unprecedented technological advances. We exploit these advances without fully knowing their risks and consequences. We become technology-enabled abusers and bullies. We abuse people around us and are abused ourselves. We abuse and pollute elements of our living environment. We abuse and addict ourselves with alcohol, drugs, gambling and online games. We abuse others by assaulting them physically and with guns and other weapons. We abuse others mentally or intellectually with mass propaganda and brainwashing, and misguided religious beliefs or political ideologies. We bully others physically or virtually with higher positions of authority and power, and with fake news and tweets. Our worries grow constantly over time. Our anxieties increase exponentially with age. We want to be good - as good persons, spouses, friends, employees, coworkers, neighbors, and citizens of our nations and our planet. We want to be good children to our parents and good parents to our children. We want our generation to do good and be good. We want to be a good sandwich.

There is much to worry about being a good sandwich. There is so much to do in so little time. We may not be able to choose our sandwich bread, but we could choose other ingredients to improve the overall quality of our sandwich. A sandwich meat by itself does not make a good sandwich, but a high-grade meat could enhance a sandwich’s taste. Adding fresh toppings like lettuce and tomato, upgraded condiments like herbs and spices, and flavorful spread could make a sandwich more wholesome and enjoyable. We should not just be the dead meat in our sandwich. We can and must enrich our sandwich through proper planning, preparation, and seasoning with quality ingredients. Knowledge through continual education and training, maturity through increased experience and communication, and wisdom through unceasing introspection and self-realization are key ingredients we must apply to our sandwich to make it more meaningful and joyful. We must refine our knowledge, maturity, and wisdom together with our parents and children to actualize our great sandwich. We can be the greatest sandwich. Let us be.

说说心里的话

亲爱的叔叔、阿姨们,

您好! 我是一名美国高中学生,心中有一大堆话要对您们说, 可常常找不到说话 的机会。谢谢您们为我提供了这个机会。虽然我要说的话听起来像是有一种反抗的情绪在 里边,但请您不要担心,我没有这个想法。   [Read More] [Close]

怎么开始说呢? 先说家长对我的要求吧,家长们只要求我好好学习。他们常说因为 孔子是这么说的,因为祖父是这么说的,因为大家都是这么说的,要“好好学习,天天向 上”,将来才能过上好生活。好像这个方法是他们知道的唯一能过上好生活的方法,所以 他们会孜孜不倦的教我认真学习,每天除了学习还是学习,永无终止。真对不起,虽然我 也崇拜孔子的思想,但我不想一味地追随这个想法。每当我说出我的想法,父母们就会说 你才刚满十六岁,还没成人, 不知柴米的价钱,更不知道天高地厚。在他们的心目中我 是个什么都不懂小毛孩,我只需要专心地读书,乖乖地听家长说的话、老师说的话。我们 什么东西都不需要管。可问题就在这儿,我们现在只管学习, 等我们长大了,走出了家 门了,走进真正的世界,到那时我们只会学习, 其他什么都不会做,怎么面对真正的生 活呢?

家长让我们努力学习的最终目的就是要考上一个好大学, 为此我们要学一种乐器 。不管是小提琴还是钢琴,不学一种乐器,对他们来说是件很尴尬的事, 因为这是考上 好大学的必须条件。而且家长们还要我们去学一个体育项目,这也是为了报考大学的需要 。难道我们的生活目的整个是围绕着考个好大学吗?难道一点点娱乐的活动都不能有吗? 我不是说让我们天天在家里打游戏、上网。我是说,让我们找一些我们喜欢的活动,跟考 大学无关的有趣的事去做。我还是个孩子,当孩子的时间在我们的一生中并不长,而且一 去不复返。作父母的为什么不能让我们在阳光下好好享受太阳的温暖,在鲜绿的草地上享 受玩耍的快乐,在蓝蓝的大海里享受戏耍波浪的畅快,在像绿色森林里享受当一天探险者 的惊奇? 在这个短暂的时间框架里,能不能让我们快乐地生活?

说了这么多,其实我也真心地感谢我的父母的。他们为了能在美国定居下来,让我 有一个好生活,牺牲了很多的时间、精力。他们为了教我学习中国文化,让我懂得他们的 生活,妈妈每周日把我送到中文学校学习,还给我们做她的家乡菜,我从小就喜欢吃妈妈 烧的菜,比麦当劳、肯德基的快餐好吃多了! 爸爸妈妈还带我回中国,我登上了长城,成 了一条好汉;触摸到了那又清又静号称甲天下的桂林山水。现在我能用中文表达我想对父 母们说的话,虽然这个语言不是我的母语,但我能自豪地说,我会说两种语言。是父母教 我怎样当一个龙的传人。这里我要从心里告诉他们“谢谢您”!

当然我也要谢谢能给我提供这个机会的叔叔阿姨们, 是您们给了我“说出心 里话” 的机会!谢谢了!
Hear Me Out

我的女儿:

此刻的你在纽约参加MMUN的活动,而我一人在体会空巢老人的感觉。这 是来美国后第一次独居的夜晚,没有一个你在我眼前晃悠让我督促,我竟觉得 有种不知所措的感觉,在房间里转悠了两圈,还是选择坐在电脑前看些什么。 电脑屏保是你的照片,照片里的你躺在花丛中,边上放着小吉他,你的笑 容如天使一般让我看着看着嘴角也不禁上扬。   [Read More] [Close]

总喜欢在你不在的时候,反复看你的照片温柔得想你。而面对你的时候 ,千般绕指柔却忍不住化为一道道犀利的眼神,化为一句句直戳靶心的利箭: 你看看你! 怎么回事?怎么还没有全A? 你到底有没有脑子?你给我动作快起 来!。。。。。。这种时候你大多会对着我做个鬼脸隐晦地表达一下自己的抗 议,但有时你也会梗起脖子对怂回来:我不是在进步啊,你为什么永远只看到 我的缺点,不表扬我的优点。

我承认,我承认你在进步。自从去年夏天我们来到这里,你的心变静了, 你学习的主动性变强了,动手能力更是有了质的飞跃,只是每当我刚感到欣慰 准备喘口气,转眼一看朋友圈国内你的同学某某某奥数竞赛获奖,某某某作文 写得惊天地泣鬼神,一起学画画的某某某现在的水平已经是你无法企及,六年 级的都已经开始上初中的内容还兼背唐诗宋词。。。。。。于是我又紧绷“革 命”的弦,开始大声吆喝:你在蠕动前行,别人都在飞奔,你有什么好表扬的 !心头的各种焦虑各种忐忑只有用高亢的声线才能释放。一般这样的吆喝时, 我会下意识离镜子远一点,我自己也不想一抬头看到一个眉头紧蹙,面貌狰狞 的黄脸婆。

此刻夜深人静,我才敢直面自己的丑态,面对内在的自我。你在国内 上的小学是全国都排得上号的,但是有一些理念有一些做法是你很不喜欢,也 是我作为一个家长觉得不太认同。于是带你出来体验美国的夏令营,没想到连 续两年的体验,你觉得非常适应,你对我说你喜欢这里的氛围,你想要快乐地 学习。于是我便开始曲折的美国计划,于是人近半百,背井离乡,辞去工作, 告别亲朋好友,告别10年有保姆照顾的生活,来到一个陌生的环境开始全新的 生活。每每有长辈对你说:你一定要听话,你妈妈为你付出那么多。我都是马 上要制止,我不想对你有道德的绑架,怕让你有亲情的压力,但是事实的情况 却的确如此,我自己的内心其实也是这样想的。国内的教育下的孩子不管他们 在囫囵吞枣还是细嚼慢咽,总之现在短短半年你已经没有能力回去参加考试, 最近看了一篇文章分析美国高中如何选AP课程,作为一个不喜欢数学,喜欢文 科的孩子,我不知道你如何和这里土生土长的孩子竞争美国历史,竞争艺术理 论,这让我经常忐忑,焦虑当时为了你的一句:“我想要快乐的学习”而做出 的这个决定到底是害了你还是帮了你,我这个破釜沉舟搭建的平台真的是最适 合你的吗?而这些忐忑,焦虑还有更为沉重的歉意。古时为国家,“忠孝不能 两全”往往放弃的都是孝,现代为孩子,我也选择放弃了孝,不敢去想年迈身 体不佳的父母是如何的不舍,如何的担忧,不敢回想自己毅然决然告别时那副 白眼狼的嘴脸。每每有长辈对你说:你一定要听话,你妈妈为你付出那么多。 我都是马上要制止,我不想对你有道德的绑架,怕让你有亲情的压力,但是事 实的情况却的确如此,我自己的内心其实也是这样想的。

现在夜深人静,我终于可以静下心来梳理出狰狞面孔背后复杂的情绪, 这让我反而变得轻松一些。原谅我时刻如一只易燃的鞭炮,一丝火星都能让我 对着你---我最想呵护的女儿开始轰炸。照片上的你笑的如此淡定,如此温暖, 就如生活中的你。在我硝烟刚起的时候,你会说:“好的好的,我会去做的, 息怒息怒!”在我为了一些杂事焦虑不安的时候,也是你拍拍我对我说:”没 事的,我们都会很好的!放心!“ 女儿,我很庆幸你现在不在我身边,看不到我羞愧的样子。仔细想来其实 你已经很棒了,”性格决定命运“ 你这样的心态,这样的性格,我的确不用那 么焦虑,或者我的焦虑指数不用那么高,我想我可能是更年期了。。。。。。 可是,如此善解人意的你应该马上要进入青春期, 会不会你到时也如传说中的 恐怖的青春期少女一样和我天天斗智斗勇斗嘴斗气?原来一直觉得年纪大了生 孩子比较好,思想成熟度高了,经济也稳定,但没想到会有一场”更年期对抗 青春期“的较量!

呵呵,我是不是又开始焦虑了,我现在可以确诊自己就是正式进入更年 期。 哎,”既来之则安之“吧!我们既然选择了这条路就一起慢慢走下去的, 我会努力调整心态,给你时间,看着你慢慢得自我修复,自我雕琢。当然为了 母女和睦,我会远离朋友圈。

那么!青春期美少女请对我这个更年期妈妈在以后的日子里要一如既往 得多多关照奥!

妈妈

2018.2 春节

Your Children Are Not Your Children

I was talking to a retired engineer who was one of my father’s friends; he immigrated to the US about 30 years ago with his family. He is more than 80 years old and living with his wife who is experiencing declining health.They have three adult children who have become professionally successful in the medical and science fields. Their daughter lives close by, and their two sons live in other states.   [Read More] [Close]

He broke down into tears when he told me that his out-of-state children seldom visit or call them, and their daughter will occasionally drop in or call only when it benefits her. As an example; when there is something wrong with one of the daughter’s homes she would call her father to fix the problem, which is free labor for the daughter. When she needs her mom to cook her favorable traditional food, she would call and set a specific time to pick up the dish and leave soon after.

“I don’t mind helping my daughter as I always did, but I thought my daughter should understand how increasingly difficult it is for her mom to cook now.” He told me, “she should be the one to cook and take care of us instead of vice versa.”

Except for giving him my cell phone number and letting him know that I am available whenever he or his wife may need my help, I really don’t know what I can say or do to better his and his wife’s situation.

His story has triggered a flashback of similar traumatic ones I heard from other parents who immigrated to the US as a trailblazer, lived tireless lives of sacrifice to open up every opportunity to their children whom are expected not only to become high-achieving professionals, but also take good care of their parents when they are old and sick. This is the typical set of traditional values which has been retained generation after generation, but is giving in to the inevitable family decline that is impacting our immigrant families.

“Your children are not your children”, these were the words he concluded with as he ended his sad story. It strikes my heart every now and then until I encountered the poem, “On Children” written by Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese artist, philosopher and writer who immigrated with his parents to Boston in 1895:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you

Recently I find myself revisiting this poem from the perspective of a mother with two children who are becoming adults and growing significantly in their education and potentially promising careers. That first line evokes a visceral response in me. Like most of the traditional Chinese parents, I have raised, taught, and cared about my children with the strict method I carried from my parents following my biological, emotional, and spiritual instincts. Besides love, I tried to give them my thoughts which a lot of time are not appreciated as much as I expected, and I started to feel upset. It took me years to realize and understand that my children have developed their own identities growing up in this country; they have their own parts to play in this world, and destinies to fulfill in their lives.

I open my heart and allow myself to be soothed with the rest of the poem:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.

I don’t agree with the way the children of my neighbor treat their parents, but I feel more and more comfortable following the poem which is full of lyrical outpourings and expressions of deep religious and mystical nature which leads to my new way of thinking: we are the means by which our children came into the world; we didn’t design nor own them, a force greater than ourselves brings them to this world. Since we don’t own them, we should not place on them any unrealistic expectations which may leave us feeling disappointed.

Confessions of a Rhinoceros

The first time I talked to Adam, he was crying hysterically. He’d just gotten back at his house, filled with paramedics and sheriff deputies, to find out that his mother had died a few hours earlier. The lanky body of this 18-year-old spread out on the cold tile of the foyer and a wailing sound came out of his chest. I sat next to him, wrapping my arms around his body and mumbling “it’s going to be OK.” I couldn’t help but thinking of my dear friend Emily, Adam’s mother.   [Read More] [Close]

I had known Emily for a decade, since her husband Charles was my old friend. I could still see her warm smile and hear her laughter. The intense pain on the young face in front of me reminded me of her face the last time I visited her.

This was a month ago, after I learned that she had a nervous breakdown. She had to be rushed to the hospital due to a suicide attempt, and after staying there for a few weeks, she was released back home. The doctors still required her to visit the local day clinic for group therapies.

When I visited her at home, she was telling me how difficult it was to muster her energy to do anything. I tried to persuade her to follow her doctors’ order to take antidepressants, but she expressed feelings of alienation at the clinic and sense of hopelessness profusely. I left her feeling concerned and vowed to come back as soon as I could. Unfortunately, I was too late. I held Adam tight, tears streaming down my face. I didn’t know him that well before, only occasionally seeing him at gatherings where he was often playing with one kind of electronic devices or another. My conversation with Emily usually revolved around our younger daughters since they took singing lessons together and performed in drama camps together.

I did know that just like my son, Adam left for college six months ago. I still remembered how excited, yet a bit worried, Emily was when she thought about sending him to a place so far away. She was concerned whether he would be able to manage the flight alone. The whole family ended up taking the flight – extending the send-off to the other side of the country.

Adam had high academic achievements, but he often had to rely on parental supervision and reminders to finish his work, like many high schoolers. Unknown to me, he also has had diagnoses of ADHD and depression for a few years and was taking medication to stabilize the situation.

At the new environment without constant reminders, he often had a hard time getting out of bed to go to classes. Instead he sought escape in the virtual world of videogames, and his mental condition deteriorated without consistent medication. His quitting two months later was a huge blow to Emily – who had always taken pride in his success. Now a mere two months later, she was gone.

The police were rushing in and out and Adam was in their way, so I had to pull him up with all my strength and walked him to the sofa to put him down. I knew the task was daunting, but I decided then and there that I had to do everything in my power to help the family, especially Adam, knowing how much guilt he must have felt in his mother’s untimely death.

The next morning, I went back to Charles’s house because we needed to discuss funeral arrangements. Adam was so upset that he spent a lot of time on the piano, playing sad soulful tunes. Charles was hoping that Adam could go to his class at the local community college, but I could see that Adam was in no state of doing so. I insisted that the family members all make counseling appointments, since losing an immediate family member was so traumatic that they would need something equivalent to CPR for their emotional state. Desperately hoping that having responsibilities would help Adam in his grieving process, I also encouraged him to go with us to check out the funeral homes.

In the car, Charles asked me whether we could create a slideshow of Emily’s photos and I echoed the idea immediately. I even suggested that I would use many of her favorite songs as a soundtrack, for I knew she was a good singer and passed the passion for music to her children. Adam interjected before I could answer, “I don’t know what music she likes, but I know what music she doesn’t like.” I was rather taken aback, “What music doesn’t she like? “‘She doesn’t like the music I like!’” was the answer. I half joked, “Well, when you die, we could use your favorite music. But this funeral is for your mother, so we will use her favorite music.” In my own interaction with children, I often find it easier to break the ice by being as silly or shocking as them. At the same time, I understood that death was like the elephant in the room – it had already presented itself to this family and we couldn’t avoid it anymore. From that day on, Adam and I had many discussions of death, life and love, which brought us closer.

As we arrived at the funeral home, we were led into a room and sat down to face the funeral worker. Adam curled his body into a ball and buried his face in his arms. As we discussed various logistic questions, I tried to wrap my arms around Adam, which was rather awkward given his size. I felt like an egret trying to put her wings around a giant clam. While hugging him, I whispered to Adam that if he had any thoughts or feelings, writing them out would be a great way to express them. Sure enough, that night Adam posted a poem on his Facebook wall, full of anger, frustration and sadness.

A few days after the funeral, Adam went back to his classes in the local college. He had a class in the morning and one in the afternoon, leaving four hours of free time in between. I made a point to stop by and eat lunch with him as often as I could. We would sit on the bench in the main courtyard. On our left was the grand performing center, on the right the library. The breeze was so pleasant that oddly it brought me a profound sense of sadness because Emily couldn’t be there to enjoy it with us. We talked about her, my friendship with her, his memory of her, his other family members and their love of her. Once he brought out his mobile phone and told me, “if I had played piano on my mother’s funeral (For various reasons, he didn’t get a chance to play.), this piece would be my choice.“ From his Youtube app, a simple but soothing melody flowed out – it was called “We miss you – Them of Love” from a game called “Mother”. My eyes were tearing up again.

Once I took him to talk to a friend who lost a few family members due to mental illness. He went along despite some reluctance. I was hoping to understand mental illness in more depth from other people’s experiences. Afterwards, I asked Adam if it was OK for me to drag him along to meet various people who were usually strangers.

‘You were like an elephant pulling this old horse cart of mine, with all you might.” Adam replied. I laughed at the vividness of the description but took mock offence, “Why couldn’t I be a giraffe? Giraffe is much more gracious and beautiful!”

Many weeks passed, I asked Adam again, "Do you still think I am an elephant?"

“No”.

“Good,” I thought to myself, “That was the answer I’d like to hear.”

“So, what am I now? “I probed.

“Well, you are like a rhinoceros now.”

The imagery again was surprising, and I had to protest again, “Why?"

"Because you are more purposeful now, with a better sense of direction, not like the elephant who was just pulling me all over the place!”

Many months have since passed, today I picked up the phone to call Adam at his university and he picked up right away. After making sure he was doing well lately at his studies and his life in general, I asked him if I could share his essay and submit it to an essay contest called “Hear Me Out”. Adam, in his usual grace and kindness, agreed.

For if an elephant could learn to be gentle and if a rhinoceros could find its direction, it may be that a young man could eventually find love and his own wings despite pain and misery.
Check Out Our Co-sponsors!

Calvin Jia-Xin Li Memorial Foundation : The mission of the Calvin Jia-Xin Li Memorial Foundation is to support the aspirations and dreams of Asian American children in the U.S. The Foundation works to promote the welfare of Asian American children as well as help in creating a supportive social and family environment to empower youth. 
(Link: http://www.cjlfoundation.org/

Chinese American Parent Association of Montgomery County (CAPA-MC) : CAPA-MC aims to promote the involvement of Chinese American parents in school communities, providing the tools with which parents can address the cultural, linguistic, and communication barriers preventing Chinese American students and parents from fully engaging in and voicing opinions within educational institutions.
(Link: http://capamc.org/

Chinese Culture and Community Service Center (CCACC) : CCACC is a non-profit and non-partisan organization serving the greater Washington D.C. area. CCACC’s mission is to enhance the quality of life and well-being of Chinese Americans and the community-at-large, to promote the awareness of Chinese culture and appreciation of cultural diversity, to facilitate assimilation of Chinese immigrants into American society, and advance coalitions in community development and building.
(Link: http://www.ccacc-dc.org/)

University of Maryland Department of Asian American Studies Program (AAST) : AAST strives to be a leader in research and education focused on Asian Americans in the United States. AAST is dedicated to studying the lives, histories, and culture of persons of Asian descent hailing from any region of Asia and the Pacific. 
(Link: https://www.aast.umd.edu/


Previous Events

May 2016 | ​Open Dialogue on Inter-generation Emotional Wellness
Pan Asian initiated the dialogue regarding mental health between the younger and older generations through a workshop featuring mental health experts and sessions that focused on bridging the generational gap.
September 2017 | "Looking for Luke"
Through a showing of the movie, "Looking for Luke," and presentation by a panel of local and national experts, Hear Me Out! hosted an interactive seminar geared toward Asian-American youth and their families. You can also check out our event recorded here.
To learn more about the mental health services offered at Pan Asian Health Community Clinic, please visit out Mental Health page.


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