Reflections on a Culture of Detachment

With the ever-growing trend of media representation for Asian-Americans, I often fall into ruminations of how my own family culture has shaped who I am today, and how my parents are similar or different to those of my peers.

When I think of my family, instead of a certain smell or an emotion, I’m present to the sounds of my home. I hear the jabbering of my mother as she reprimands my brother for his grades slipping, the bickering between my brother and I at the dinner table, my father chuckling as he watches Pirates of the Caribbean yet again, and more of my mother yelling for who knows what reason this time.

What I never noticed until recently, however, was the lack of explicit affection in my home. We don’t buy each other gifts for holidays or birthdays. My mother says “I love you” to me once a year on my birthday, and I don’t recall that phrase ever leaving my father’s mouth. Sometimes, my mother opens her arm for a hug and I push her away before locking the door to my room. When I spend my summers away at summer camp, I never call my parents out of my own will; I don’t yearn for their presence, and instead I appreciate the fraction of independence I can get. At first I thought this was typical–that no one exchanged hugs with their parents, but even when I discussed with my other Asian-American friends, some of them were shocked at my family’s lack of affection.

I think I’ve become emotionally detached in some manners due to my home culture. For instance, on the last days of school or on the last day of summer camps, I find it uncomfortable to hug my friends goodbye. I don’t register that I may never see some of them again. It only hits me when I’m sitting alone at home on a random Tuesday afternoon, my chest aching with a lonely hollowness. I can text apologies and expressions of gratitude and affection, but when I try to speak them aloud, my lips freeze as I try to formulate indistinguishable words. Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not stone-hearted and emotionless. I can bawl my eyes out at a sad movie or laugh until I fall out of my chair. But when it comes to expressing how I feel about someone, I struggle.

It’s not easy, but we’re working on it. I saw my mother cry for the first (and second, and third) time while watching a movie together in China. My father asks how my days went as I send him to work every morning. Even my brother shows me fragments of his life; he has finally started to respond to my inquiries about his teachers and friends. Maybe I’ll stop rejecting my mother’s embraces. Maybe we’ll watch movies together and unapologetically cry. Maybe…

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