Raising My Parents: A Mexican American Tale
By Yessenia Anderson
For me September is jam packed with milestones, the day my son was born, my birthday and it just so happens to also be the month where we celebrate the other brown people in the U.S. – it is Hispanic Heritage month.
In celebration of this commemorative time period I began reflecting on my roots and how they are such a big part of the person I am today. Being of Mexican descent growing up in America is no breeze especially when you have two parents that do not speak the language.
Relating to your parents when you are a kid is nearly impossible but for me it was a necessity as I had to put myself in their shoes often. My mom and dad did not speak English fluently. My mom till this day only knows the essentials, you know like “how much?” and “oh my gosh.”This meant I translated A LOT. I became my parent’s accountant, real estate agent and doctor. By the time I graduated high school I had opened multiple bank accounts, closed a house deal, applied for financial aid and had gotten myself accepted to a number of state colleges.
Not to mention the culture lesson I walked them through as I brought home my first crush, a black teenage boy and the new gay best friend that insisted on kissing my mom’s cheek at every greeting.
They nurtured me and I lectured them. They walked me through milestones, as I deciphered pebbles for the two. Through the journey I stuck to a few guidelines that helped and continue to help me in navigating my relationship with my parents while not losing my youth in the midst of it all.
- Be patient:
My parents grew up in a small town with less people in it than the average number of guests most restaurants accommodate. For you a trip to New York maybe mind blowing, for them the transition to America was an explosion and then some. Due to the language barrier I had to help out a lot. As a cranky teenager reading a notice from creditors in the mail is not exactly the recreational reading you like to take part in after a long day at school. Translating financial jargon that I barely comprehended to my parents sometimes was a challenge. I would get frustrated if I couldn’t find the words to describe what I was reading and would take it out on them for not catching on to what I was saying and for making me translate in the first place.
One day during one of my outburst I caught a glimpse of my dad’s face. He had such a solemn gaze as he looked at the papers in front of him. I then realized how much having to ask me to translate wore much more on them than the actual translating did on me.
So slow down, look around and be patient. Chances are your parents are probably not bugging you because they enjoy it.
- Put you first sometimes:
Translating for my parents wasn’t always in the literal sense of the word. Sometimes translating meant explaining to them why a senior trip is a milestone in the American culture and something that meant a lot to me.
Again I defer you to the small town in Mexico where ladies were only out with dates before the sun came down. Explaining a co-ed trip far from home was an interesting feat. In the end my parents were always pretty reasonable people and as different as customs may be there’s something to be said about honesty. They could tell I was sincere in my intentions to behave and appreciated that I took the time to explain why this wasn’t just some event I wanted to take part in.
Having dished out the advice on being patient above it is OK to also recognize that when you have been there for them taking a stand for yourself is within reason. Translating for your parents means growing up faster than expected so when you have time to be a kid or teenager – take it!
- Stand up for what you feel is right:
On a similar note when languages blend and cultures clash it can lead to difficult situations. My parents are not racist but their traditional upbringing made them resistant to me having a black lead partner in my Quinceañera celebration which is the American equivalent to a sweet sixteen.
They weren’t sure just how their family and friends would react and were frankly scared of the unknown. While I was born in Mexico I grew up in Pittsburg, California where my circle of friends was made up of Peruvian, Filipino, Irish, and Tongan students. I knew better and I objected to their old school way of thinking. I argued with them, asked family members to chime in and scolded them.
My Mexican partner on the day of my Quinceañera nearly got us kicked out of our limo after the driver found alcohol I had no idea he had brought on with him. On the other hand my black friend sang a coming of age song to me and treated me like a princess that day.
Needless to say my parents apologized for being scared to take a risk and vowed to be more open minded.
It was kind of a trip sitting my parents down and lecturing THEM on how to not be quick to pass judgment. Moral of the story is while my approach may have been wrong when I kicked and screamed – my heart was in the right place. I would advise you to trust your gut and don’t be afraid to stand up for what you know is right.
I am proud of my Mexican heritage and while my childhood wasn’t a piece of cake… the way I see it…flan can be just as sweet.