Feature: Two generations of Chinese Americans find new ways to bridge cultural divide

Source: Xinhua

by Julia Pierrepont III

SAN DIEGO, the United States, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- During the weekend, representatives from Chinese language schools across the United States met in San Diego and shared ways to help Chinese American students bridge the cultural divide in their families.

A growing number of first-generation Chinese Americans have been looking for better ways to communicate with their children, while at the same time, their children are struggling with some thorny social challenges, such as anti-Asian sentiments, identity issues, anxiety and depression.

"I had PTSD, anxiety, and depression. A lot of Chinese American kids do. I couldn't talk to my parents about it at all," said Amanda Chen, a 20-year-old student at an Ivy League university who was invited to speak at the meeting to share her story.

As a first-generation Chinese American, Chuanqi Chen, Amanda's father, used to think "the second generation have it easy, or are lazy, or don't appreciate what their parents struggled to give them."

"But my daughter taught me that is not the case," said the father.

"It's not that we are unappreciative. It's that our challenges are very different," the daughter explained.

"First-generation Chinese Americans were raised very differently. Our parents were very strict. You were taught not to express your own opinion, just obey your parents," her father said.

"They didn't show emotions or say, 'I love you' or hug their children. That was not the Chinese way. They expressed their love by pushing us to excel and succeed," he said.

Amanda recalled that her grandfather was unbelievably strict. "He never said one word of praise. It made me hate him, and my father too."

"Sadly, he would tell me how proud he was of her, but never told her. I didn't tell her either. So she grew up thinking we wouldn't love her if she didn't excel. It tore our family apart," said her father.

This made Amanda, who considered herself as neither "Chinese enough" nor "American enough," feel very depressed, and finally, she thought about ending her life.

At that moment, the father opened his heart to his daughter and told her how he really felt. Open communication has changed everything.

"He didn't try to save face," Amanda said. "He put that aside and was open and honest. It brought us back together again."

"We have good intentions and want to guide our kids on a safe path to success. But they grew up in America. Things are different here. They learn from their peers and want to choose their own path. We must trust them, let them go, and they will come back to us," said her father.

Eager to help others like her, Amanda spoke at the meeting about an innovative approach -- creative writing.

"Creative writing changed my life. It allowed me to express myself for the first time," Amanda said, who has been trying to help other students find their own voices.

"They feel heard for the first time. And I'm like an underqualified family therapist," she said. "Parents are asking me how to get through to their kids."

Writing has also changed her attitude towards her Chinese identity. Now she is really grateful for the Chinese parts of her because "they are my greatest strength and they make me more successful."