Narrative Essay, By Camron Wang
By Camron Wang
My parents were immigrants: born in China and Taiwan, raised with their mother country’s cultural ideas. Leaving their families behind, they immigrated to the United States seeking a better future. They came to the country for new opportunities, living in a small house in “the city that never sleeps”. Even though I may have the same jet black hair, the same wide nose, the same eyes, and wear the same smile, they knew I was going to be different from them. Having been brought up in a different country, my parents carried on their own ideals. They brought those ideals to America, and passed down those same ideas to me. The American lifestyle I grew up with and my parents’ teachings existed in peace within me, until the day I met my grandparents.
A few years back I traveled to China, meeting my grandparents for the first time at the age of fifteen. Having lived my entire life surrounded by Americans, the stark contrast between the two worlds sent me into shock. Thousands of people looked and spoke like me, yet the differences between us could be seen from miles away. The ideals of unquestionable obedience taught to me from an early age by my parents were personified by these people. Norms set in stone by American society were completely thrown out the window just like the clothes the locals would throw onto a rack to dry. However, the days of jet-lagged, culture-shocked confusion wore off after a while, and the same things I previously viewed with an upturned nose suddenly didn’t bother me. I almost completely forgot about all the differences and saw the wonders of the nation as the locals did. I began to understand the culture which my parents had grown up with and had taught to me. Everything was great until Dad said, “We’re meeting your grandparents tomorrow, be on your best behavior.”
Realization hit me as my family walked up those dark, broken stairs to my grandparent’s home. Due to the overwhelming distance between us, I was never able to have that strong bond the other kids had with their relatives back home. I never knew or saw my grandparents and always felt left out during “Grandparents Day” back in elementary school because of it. Never would I have guessed that after all the years of overhearing their distorted Chinese over the phone that I was finally going to see them face-to-face. My heart beat with the ferocity of a lion as Dad began to knock on the door.
The door flung open, and I was immediately greeted with the strong stench of stale cigarette smoke along with a pair of smiles plastered on two crinkly faces. They lived in a two-bedroom apartment unlike any other in America, but the pestering smell of cigarettes would continue to linger in my nose as we sat down in the dining room. The conversation between the four adults seemed to drag on for what seemed like years. As their discussion finally came to an end, I was thoroughly disappointed because my relatives still felt like strangers by the end of the three hours. As my family made our way back out, the grandparents suddenly addressed me, asking a question.
“If your parents told you to do something that you did not want to do, would you do it?” asked Grandmother. Such a simple question, and yet it kicked my mind into overdrive. My parents’ teachings attempted to overthrow the American norms within me; their ideals clashing against mine like a cultural battle of the ages. Time seemed to slow as silence fell upon the room, everyone waiting for my response with baited breath. The only sounds in the room were coming from my sister’s earbuds, the rhythmic ticking from Dad’s watch, and the creaking from the grandparents’ chairs. Of course, I had to say that we have to obey our parents, but what if our parents asked for us to do something bad? What if it went against our morals? Not obeying your parents was seen as disrespectful and went against all that I was taught, but what if it was a task which violated your morals? The rampant swirling of thoughts continued until I finally came up with an answer. “Well, it depends on the situation. If my parents told me to do drugs, which is bad for me, I wouldn’t do it. If it was something like washing the dishes, I would obey,” I confidently answered.
The smile once placed firmly on Grandmother’s face faltered for a split second, quickly recovering after registering my answer. “No, you are wrong. No matter what your parents ask you to do, you must obey them due to how hard they have worked to raise you,” Grandmother said.
My stunned silence could have been a neon billboard sign, as my parents immediately knew to prevent further damages. We had to escape, so we said our goodbyes and left without another word. The walk back to our hotel stretched into an eternity and all other sounds faded to nothingness, as I was lost to my inner turmoil. As we finally got to the hotel and prepared for bed, the cultural clash inside me continued to rage on without an end in sight.
It has been almost three years since that day, and I continue to tire myself trying to figure out why I was wrong in the eyes of my grandparents. At the time, I felt I was giving the correct answer: one forged from my parents’ teachings and strengthened by American society. The result of the small conversation with the grandparents left me confused. Friends have blamed the conflicting cultural perspectives in an attempt to reassure me, but the crack in Grandmother’s smile continues to say otherwise. I often catch myself thinking about that same cracked smile. My parents, themselves, have pointed the blame at the differences in cultures, simply providing me with a superficial answer and leaving me more determined to find a better reason for why I was wrong.
The grandparents died about two years later, bringing the reason for my confusion down with them to the grave. Although I may never be able to fully understand why Grandmother’s smile cracked like that, the event has caused me to accept differences between me and the other billion people out there with similar looks, different views, and different ways of life.