About Kingston’s Short Stories: In this series, I’ll be sharing one story from every year of my life. The stories may at times seem mundane, but its these day to day occurrences that define us. A lesson is then pulled from each story.
Son of Immigrants
Growing up as a 2nd generation Chinese American, it was a classic tale of immigrant parents with American born children The parents wanted to preserve the culture with language being a big factor while the kids were Americanized and resistant to varying degrees.
I was not resistant per se I took up kung fu for 7 years of my childhood as an example I just was never a gifted language learner. So I remember when I was 13 in the 8th grade I was in my room doing my homework when my mom came in and told me to stop playing for a minute because she needed help with something.
I got really irked by this comment because I was doing my homework, not playing. I tried to rebut this injustice using Cantonese (language I use to talk with my mom) but wasn’t able to find the right words. She said some words back and things started getting heated. There was a language barrier between me and my mother.
I got frustrated and started raising my voice and eventually threw a tantrum. My mom said I needed a timeout and gave me the traditional Chinese punishment of kneeling in front of portraits of my ancestors to ask for forgiveness. I stewed on the injustice of it all for however many hours I had to kneel. Besides the tantrum I felt wronged and this was one of many instances that stemmed from the language barrier.
You know there’s a saying that the more you understand, the less you forgive. As a young man of 24, I still feel too immature to discuss this on a personal level publicly.
I will say that as I’ve gotten older and I remember these injustices, my demeanor has shifted from the anger I initially felt when I was wronged, to coolness. I still love my mother, out of a son’s responsibility for his mother and out of duty. That relationship is changing as I continue growing into my manhood.
Just as you don’t forget how to walk, you don’t forget these childhood memories. As you grow older, your position in those childhood memories begin to shift. You become less and less of the child in the memories as you gradually shift into being the adult.
The ball is on your side of the court, you shape the childhood memory of the next generation. Question then becomes, how do you want to be remembered?