The Hidden Cost of Assimilation
By Shelley Lazarescu
My story is one of many Asian American experiences. My parents came to the U.S. with $5,000 in cash and no knowledge of the English language or customs. They uprooted our family from Taiwan due to tensions with China. Through extreme hard work and unlimited sacrifice, they created opportunities to build a better life for my sister and I.
We hardly took any vacations but when we did travel, it was back to Taiwan for funerals to pay respects to our family. During those trips, I was even more of a stranger in my own country. My external appearance was from the East but my internal thoughts and behavior were from the West. Growing up in an affluent suburban environment, there wasn’t much diversity so I often found myself confused about my identity and lacked relatable role models. Physically, I was grateful for a safe environment but emotionally, I had to hide my deep depression from age 12 into my 20’s. My parents worked too hard for me to be self indulgent with such feelings. More importantly, I had to be a role model for my younger sister and other family members.
When I flew the coop to college at Rutgers University in Newark, I experienced culture shock. It was a growing experience for me as I familiarized myself with people from all walks of life. Despite attaining knowledge of different backgrounds, I still struggled with self-esteem. My ideas of beauty and values were already skewed from my hometown. My new Asian friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel pride in being one of them.
It wasn’t until my 30’s that I became comfortable in my own skin. It took years for my husband to convince me that it wasn’t about my background or past but who I wanted to become in the future. He helped me realize that I had complete control over my own future as an adult. These lessons should have come from my parents but they were busy working to make a life for us; and in retrospect, who really listens to their parents at that age?
Now that I’m a mother, I have the same fears for my son. If I were to give advice to my younger self and him, it would be:
- Surround yourself with positive people. Don’t waste your time or effort on others who will not change. When people show you who they are, believe them.
- Only you can control your reaction. Don’t give others the power to make you frustrated, angry or sad. You have the power to choose happiness.
- Give thanks and show gratitude for what you do have. It’s so easy to be envious of what others have in today’s culture and media but put your desires in perspective. Above all, be grateful for family and friends. Those relationships are worth more than anything you can buy.
Shelley Lazarescu is the Director of Marketing for Wiss & Company. You can reach her at 973.994.9400 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.