Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

Growing up with immigrant parents

By Kristine Pascual, Jan. 24, 2023

To live in Los Angeles in 2023 is something I should be grateful for. Everywhere I go, I see people of color that look like me — Black, Asian, Mexican, mixed and more.

I will never have to experience the prejudice that my parents did. My parents immigrated to the States separately, my mom to Chicago, and my dad to California.

When they eventually moved in together, they shopped for furniture at different stores but received weird looks from employees, and my parents felt as if they were being judged and had no money because they were not white.

Another instance occurred during a road trip where in Colorado the host at the restaurant refused to serve my parents. They talked about remembering that they received hostile looks and glares from the people that were dining at the restaurant.

But the most blatant racism experienced by my mom was as a new graduate nurse, when a patient asked for another nurse who “could speak English.”

Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

Back in elementary school, whenever a birthday rolled around, a kid would bring pizza and cupcakes to celebrate with their classmates. It was always pizza and cupcakes — that was the norm. But for my sister’s seventh birthday, my parents had brought mamon and ensaimada, popular Filipino pastries for her classmates rather than what was the usual.

Even as an incredibly young child, I used to wonder why they would not just conform and bring pizza and cupcakes like everyone else. I thought to myself, why are they bringing something that kids will not even eat?

To be honest, the only reason I did not want them to bring anything Filipino was because I wanted to fit in. I wanted to do what everyone else was doing. I wanted to be “normal.” I was afraid of what the other kids would say about what was brought to the birthday party. I was afraid of disapproval.

When I started kindergarten, I remember that my lunchbox would always be filled to the brim and looked like it would explode at the slightest movement of the zipper. As a 5-year-old, I was insecure because I was told that I was big for my age. I felt like I was always being negatively looked at by everyone.

At the time, it never occurred to me that the reason my lunch bag was always stuffed was because my mom never wanted me to feel like I did not have enough, just as she did growing up in the Philippines.

She packed extra snacks just in case I wanted more. I was never meant to eat all of it, but just seeing all of it made me feel so guilty. She would tell my sister and me about how as a kid she would ask for a small bag of chips for her birthday but was never able to get it because my grandparents could not afford it.

And here I was, a healthy 5-year-old, embarrassed to have so much food on my plate, and worried about what other 5-year-olds would say about me.

But now that I look back at it, kids are brutally honest. I do not remember them purposely making fun of any Filipino foods I brought. It was more of curiosity that piqued their interest.

When they asked me what a certain food was, it was their tone that got to me. Whenever they would ask what something was, it sounded as if they were asking out of disgust. But now that I am older, I think back to that time and realize that even as a young child I was and still am a huge overthinker. However, in my young brain, I was insecure and immediately felt that they would make fun of me.

I was dramatic as a kid, and even now. But having parents who immigrated from the Philippines to a brand-new country all by themselves is a blessing. They came to the United States in their 20s. They did not know anyone in the States but knew they needed to move for a better life, for themselves and their families.

Despite the constant butting of heads between my parents and me, particularly my dad, they have taught me so many life lessons that I would not have learned elsewhere. A friend once told me that we butt heads with the people we are most like. Hearing that really put my relationship with my dad into perspective. Despite how hardheaded my dad and I are, we are filled with so much empathy for others, loyalty and love with all our hearts.

My mom has taught me how to stay strong in the face of adversity. She taught me how to work hard and that you will not get anywhere unless you get up and do it for yourself. I am certainly not as studious as my older sister, because I hate having to sit around and wait when I want something. However, I choose to be proactive with my choices.

Together, my parents not only taught me, but showed me that love comes in many forms. A lot of their love was shown in acts of service. Whether it was my dad cooking for my family or my mom doing the laundry, they always knew how to say, “I love you,” without saying it aloud. I did not always recognize what they did for me as love.

As I grew older, now in my second year of college, I realized that the snacks my mom filled my kindergarten lunch bag with were a love language. It was a special type of love that my parents had shown, one I had not exactly understood, and am still learning to understand.

I am confident that they made certain decisions out of love and protection for mine and my sister’s safety. I never doubt that my parents have and will always put our needs before theirs. I hope that one day I can repay them for the endless number of things that they have done for me.

Feature image by Lauren Wong

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