Over winter break, my cousin recommended that I read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hoesseni. The novel takes place in 20th century Afghanistan and revolves around the relationship between a separated family. There's a quote in the book that particularly stuck out to me:
"But it is important to know this, to know your roots. To know where you started as a person. If not your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle. Like you have missed the beginning of a story and now you are in the middle of it, trying to understand."
When I read this quote, I started to think more deeply about my roots. In a previous post, I talked about how it feels like I'm living more than one life. I've moved and evolved and experienced so much in my life it's hard to connect the pieces into one coherent collection of memories; It's convoluted. I know a lot of people who believe life is about creating themselves and disassociating with their past. People move cities or transfer to different schools attempting to be "someone else". Can you really run away from your past?
I was raised by my parents who were both immigrants from the Philippines. My generation of siblings and cousins are first-born americans; we were destined to live the American dream even before birth. Growing up Filipino-American was different from growing up in a stereotypical American family. There were no family game nights or dinners asking how everyone's day was going. I wasn't talked to in a more loving or respectful manner when I was being scolded. I felt governed and controlled.
The choices I made growing up were products of my parents hopes and desires. How was I supposed to make my family proud and fulfill the model minority stereotype that everyone around me expected me to be. The pressure to succeed and be the person my parents would love and accept induced psychological anxiety in me. I wasn't allowed to fail. This made every small failure growing up feel like my entire life was falling apart.
How was I supposed to carry on the traditions of my family while simultaneously adapting to western society? It made the journey of self-discovery even more difficult.
There was a point in my life where I didn't want to be Asian. I remember wishing I was caucasian because I was so embarrassed about my roots and the way I grew up. I didn't want to be associated with being good at math or playing the piano. I wasn't good at either. I didn't want to be perceived as docile and quiet. I didn't want weird looks whenever my friends looked inside my refrigerator or heard my parents try to understand the person on the other end of customer service. I tried distancing myself from my culture; I stopped eating the foods and listening to the tagalog music I sang and danced to as a kid. I tried so hard to be someone else.
Looking back, I'm ashamed of the process I underwent trying to figure out my identity. To be ashamed about the people and culture that supported me my entire life is one of my only regrets.There was so much time wasted not talking to my parents and opening up to them. So much time wasted not learning the language or the recipes of the food. So much time wasted forgetting how hard my parents and other immigrants work so hard to provide their children with a life equal to their western counterparts, despite starting at a disadvantage.
My roots define who I am. If I were to forget everything and everyone that provided the foundation for all of my failures and achievements, I would have lost a fundamental piece of myself. I was taught discipline and hardwork.I was taught the importance of family. I was taught that God and faith came first. Most importantly, I was taught that love wasn't hearing "I love you" every single day. It was "Come home now it's late" and "put on two layers of jackets it's cold" or "don't drive it's raining hard". Even though I never heard the eight letter, three-word phrase every day, I learned to see and appreciate love in some of the smallest gestures and I owe it all to my parents. I belong to a community that values education and good morality; a community that inspires me to continue to work hard and represent a culture that lacks idols in government and the media. I know that my children and children's children won't grow up in the same environment and culture that I did, but I hope to continue the traditions and cultures, and remind them of the roots that sowed the seeds of their fruitful life and bountiful success.