When my Chinese-American friends come down from the Bay Area for a visit to the Central Coast, they say, We'd like to stop by and say, hi, to your parents. It truly warms the cockles of my heart. Only my Chinese-American friends think to do this.
When I was invited to speak at the Smithsonian some years ago, Chinese-American friend's parents were in the small audience and wanted to adopt mom and me during our stay in D.C., to show us the sights.
Chinese-Americans live inclusive of their older generation. This has often been mistakenly charged by the larger American society as being "dependent," or "neurotically close." I, for one, think Americans take impendence too far. When parents are older, they are too proud to combine their lives with their children's, readying themselves to live in retirement communities rather than be thought dependent. God forbid, he or she is DEPENDENT. This vein of thinking must have come from developing the great American West, where there were vast spaces to populate and folks had to rely on their own wit and strength.
My eighty year-old Baba and seventy-seven year-old Mama are my friends and mentors. It wasn't so in my youth. I felt an even wider gulf from my parents than most teens. My parents were not only foreign, they held close to their roots by immersing themselves in Eastern literature, while I studied all things Western. But I'd returned to them after my sojourn in China, deeply appreciative of the wisdom and knowledge they could impart to me. I had returned to them as an adult, confident enough of my own strength to befriend my parents. And my parents have NEVER steered me wrong.
I contribute to their lives by keeping them up to date on the fast pace of change in society. (The truth is, Baba, can see through the surface changes and know exactly what's going on, be it on Wall Street or Timbuktoo. He's seen it all during the war years in China.) My monkey antics and raucous humor make them laugh. My most important activity in life is to keep them healthy and youthful by my proximity. As I type these words, Baba is high up in the cypress tree, trimming its branches, and Mama, sprier than me, is tugging at browning jasmine vines.
One of my American friends once asked me: is taking care of your parents non-negotiable? Now, I love and respect this man, the father of my best friend from grade school, who became my dear friend for decades. Well, sir, the question itself misses the point. There is nothing to negotiate. Chinese children take care of their elders, as naturally as their elder took care them when they were small. It's not an obligation. It's not even duty. I take care of my parents out of joy. It's what human beings were meant to do for one another.
Causes Belle Yang Supports
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