This picture shows where I lived back in China. The background of the room is decorated with Chinese characters and a calendar. There are also coins on the wall, which stand for good luck. My family and I are sitting on a sofa in front of the art. We’re all dressed nicely and seem ready to have our picture taken. Our clothing shows that we are more modern than other Chinese families. My brother is dressed in jeans, a white shirt and a blue tie. My mom is wearing a white blouse and a red skirt. My dad is dressed in a tan suit, a white shirt and a red tie. I am wearing a white blouse and a skirt with a floral print. I’m also wearing a headband to complement my outfit. Everyone, with the exception of my father, is smiling in the photograph. He never smiles for pictures. I wonder if there’s anything in the world that would make him change.
dad has his arm around my waist in the photograph, but you won’t
see that too often. In fact, I was surprised when he did this. My dad
and I seemed like strangers when we lived in China. He worked in a plastic
factory in Hong Kong. Most of my time was spent with my mother and brother
in Guang Zhou, a small city in China. My dad didn’t come home
often, only twice a month. This was a picture we took when he came home
from Hong Kong. When I was little, I didn’t recognize my dad every
time I saw him. I used to think he was my uncle who was just visiting.
I don’t ever remember talking to my father about anything,, and
we’ve never gone out together. Our distant relationship stems
from the lack of communication between us.
doesn’t mean that I don’t know anything about my dad. I
know that he loves to wear suits and dress shoes. He was always dressed
up, even if the family was just going out to have breakfast. My dad
also smokes and drinks. At that time, I didn’t really care because
I was a little kid. I knew that adults would never listen even if I
did complain about my father’s habits. In fact, I didn’t
even know that smoking was bad. One of the rules in the Chinese culture
is that kids are not allowed to talk back to adults. Adults are always
right because they have more experience.
changed shortly after this picture was taken. It was eight years ago
that I moved to New York City. My dad was fifty-one when he moved to
this country. It was then that I came to know him better. I realized
my dad was a very strict and stubborn man, as you can see in the picture.
He is sitting straight up in his chair like a soldier with a serious
face. But all my dad did was go to work and come home. Then he would
sit in the kitchen and wait for us to prepare his food because he didn’t
know how to cook. He didn’t even know how to use the telephone
or do laundry. He was so wrapped up in smoking and drinking that he
had no time for entertainment. According to the Chinese Canadian National
Council’s website, when “parents are first generation immigrants,
the problem of inter-generational conflicts is particularly intense.
Due to language barriers and cultural differences, they find little
support from the family.” My dad is a perfect example of this.
I once asked my mom why my dad was so quiet all the time, and why he
didn’t like to go out at all. She said that my father used to
spend time with family and friends back in Hong Kong, but couldn’t
really find close friends here because of the language barrier. She
also said being older made it harder to form new relationships. His
problems were a lot different than mine.
shift from working in Hong Kong to America was very hard for my father.
He was so used to the work environment in Hong Kong. Now, he has to
work in the basement of a dirty food store and face the attitude of
his boss everyday. CNCC’s website says this is a natural experience
for immigrants: “(For) immigrants the problem of alienation can
be worsened by the process of adaptation, a lack of official languages,
and cultural support services, and limited knowledge of and access to
educational and employment opportunities.”
we moved to New York City, my dad complained every day about how Mao,
a Chinese leader, didn’t let him go to college. This is the reason
he has no education now. But he still wanted my brother and me to be
educated. That is why he brought us to America. He told me that he loved
the old days back in Hong Kong where he felt at home, the days where
he could be proud wearing his suit. He longed to go back there. He always
complained that New York was not the right place for him. He just loves
wearing suits. I once asked him why he loved them so much and he said,
“Being able to wear a suit creates a sense of pleasure for me.
It makes me look polite and nice.” He didn’t think of it
as being Americanized. He believed that wearing a suit was not purely
a Western tradition. I remember we came to New York City in the spring.
The weather was cold, but still my father wore a suit whenever he went
to visit our relatives or go sightseeing with my aunt. He’d been
taught to be polite and dress nicely. That was why we were all posed
nicely in the picture. When our friends and relatives saw it, they would
know our parents taught us well. My father never wanted me to go out
with nasty, unbuttoned clothing with dragging pants. But then he started
was about four years ago on a cold winter morning. My dad usually worked
in the early mornings. On his way out the door, I saw him with this
big puffy, dark green jacket with a brand name. I was shocked. My father
refused to wear puffy jackets for the first four years he was in this
country. He was not wearing his suit, and he didn’t care. “What
made him change?” I asked my mom. She told me that it was the
weather. She said that my dad had to work with the cold water all through
the year, and sometimes he even had to work outside. The working conditions
were either cold in the winter or hot due to the heat generated by the
stoves in the basement. He also started to wear snow boots that one
could buy at Payless, a shoe store in New York. My dad was moving away
from the Chinese culture that he reflects in the picture.
the four years since my family moved to our new house, my father has
changed even more. He has learned how to cook. My father had always
believed that a woman should cook for a man after he comes home from
work. He also started to shop in supermarkets. I wouldn’t say
it in front of him, but I still think that my mom cooks better. However,
he definitely picks out better fruit than my mom. Throughout the first
sixteen years of my life, I had never seen my dad eating potato chips.
But since September 11th, my dad has bought potato chips every week.
I am not sure if it has anything to do with the terrorist attacks, but
it shocked me because my dad never liked junk food. He didn’t
even like fruit; he only bought it for us. I was shocked because I now
knew that under that suit there was the sweetest heart in the world.
The funniest thing was that he started telling us about his day at work
at dinner. He complained about his work and how bad the boss was. He
also complained about how badly the workers treated him and all the
funny names he called his coworkers such as “amigo.” I asked
him if he knew what that meant. He said, “Yeah, it means Spanish.”
I just laughed because he didn’t know the exact meaning was “friend.”
He also tried to pick up phrases like “How do you do?” But
he always said it as “How do how you?” It was hilarious.
I couldn’t believe that such a strict face in the photo could
be so funny sometimes.
all these years, my dad is starting to adapt to the American culture
unconsciously. He has started to dress like an American, freely and
comfortably. He has begun to speak his heart to his family. In Chinese
culture, men are not supposed to shed a tear. They were always looked
at as the defender of the family and the strong one. That was why my
dad never talked about what he did at work. Even if he got hurt, he
wouldn’t tell. But now he’s different. He complains and
shows when he needs help. He also smiles more and manages to listen
to me. A few years ago he wouldn’t listen to a thing that I said
because I was still a kid to him. He was in the process of adapting
to American culture. It is good that he learned to adapt; but is adapting
equal to betraying his own culture by changing and moving on with his
life? I never realized the picture was the symbol of my dad’s
future until this point. The fact that he was wearing a western suit,
sitting in front of the Eastern artwork showed that he was moving forward.
I know that no matter how much his life moves, his Chinese heritage
will still continue to recede into the background.
“Employment.” 21 Jan. 2001. Chinese Canadian National Council. Fall 2002 <http://
“Youth Issues.” 21 Jan. 2001. Chinese Canadian National Council. Fall 2002 <http://