What it’s like to be separated from family

A phone call from Vietnam. My grandma has passed away and my parents are grieving. I want to cry, but I can’t.  I’m sad, I really am, but I’m not sad enough to cry. I barely knew my grandma, let alone recall any good, or bad, memories of her.

In Vietnam, my aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews look down into her casket and revisit their last moments with her, which may have been only a few days or hours prior. Yet, here I am halfway across the globe shrinking in shame as I attempt to reminisce the one conversation I had with her four years ago,  a conversation in which I could count on two hands the number of words spoken.

Emotional detachment is a cost that many must pay for separation from their family and loved ones. The decision to leave your birth country is not one to make when in the mood for spontaneity. Whether it was made voluntarily or not, you are parting from your foundation, from everything and everyone that you’ve ever known. The older you are during the move, the more difficult it will be, and even more so if you’re a parent. Connections and relationships will be severed and lost.  

The death of my grandma has not been the first experience where I have been at guilt of my emotional detachment. High school graduations, college acceptances, and marriages are all major milestones that I have failed to be a part of in my extended family’s lives. Even though we have been living in the U.S for 13 years already, I still see the melancholy in my dad’s face every time he ends a call with his brother or sister.

I have been complaining this whole article about my struggles, but the real internal conflicts lies within my dad. His whole family is back home in Vietnam, his eight siblings and every other blood relative besides my sister and me. Not only is his heart weighed, his physical health is also unstable due to his laborious job. He graduated college back home, but in America, his college diploma only counts as a high school diploma.  If this wasn’t the case, he would be eligible for an increased number of jobs and opportunities, be living much more comfortably, and not be as physically worn out.

Yet, he always prioritizes my education above anything. This is the reason why I am a “try-hard” at school and why I don’t sleep. In order to give my parents the fulfilling and comfortable life they can’t have at the moment, I am motivated to work only harder every day. The achievement of my success would to have the ability, in the future, to buy my parents a plane ticket back home whenever they desire. I think that for those with parents who immigrated here for their children’s futures, this should be everyone’s goal.

Setting aside the sacrifice of familial bonds, I think it was worth it. Although I miss my family and the heightened culture, I don’t miss the polluted air and traditional gender roles. I still remember waking up to the sound of roosters and opening the windows to morning greetings from everyone- from your neighbors, street vendors, frolicking children, and elders hanging laundry.

Although I would trade anything to relive in those mornings again, the comfort of life in America and knowing that the “American Dream” of success is so within reach outweighs the regret that I left Vietnam.

One thought on “What it’s like to be separated from family

  • October 12, 2017 at 11:29 am

    I completely agree with your experience of being separated from family, especially with the perspective on your dad’s experience with it. My mother and I are also first generation immigrants to the US, moving here in 2002, and I know how hard the shift from one culture to another, from family to solitude, has been hard for her. Like you, I see the sadness in her eyes every time she calls home to her mom and sister and how she cries because of her inability to help out with struggles back in China. My grandmother has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, and it pains me that my mother cannot afford to uproot her life because of her responsibilities here to visit her mother.

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