By Reyna Han ’23
In high school, the running joke between my Asian friends and I was that we didn’t know how to handle emotions or express love because our parents never said I love you to us. Despite this, we all knew it wasn’t true. Western culture often portrays love as a passionate affair that needs to be proclaimed through verbal and physical cues. These overly dramatic displays of affection are splashed across all sources of media and exposed to children from a very young age. Barney’s signature song was “I love you, You love me” and everywhere I went, magazines and gossip outlets would talk about the latest celebrity dating news. This is harmful to children and their perception of love everywhere but in the Asian American community, it has even more profound effects.
Asian culture has never greatly emphasized blatant shows of affection but rather more subtle displays and the duties that one has to those they love. This stark contrast between what Asian American children experience at home and what they see in the world around them causes them to question if their parents truly love them and to what extent. I remember that as a child, I would always chase validation and love from my parents that the other kids in my class got so easily. This is not to say that I didn’t love my parents and I didn’t know that they loved me but, in some ways, I felt like I had to earn their love. I was continuously frustrated by the fact that I was attending supplementary classes for math, English, and music on the weekends and in the summer, while the kids in my class were running around and having fun, going to amusement parks and staying out late at night. It wasn’t until much later in high school, after expressing my frustrations about feeling forced into classes that I never wanted to take and feeling pressured to always be the best, that my parents made it clear that they were just expressing their love in the only way they knew. While I felt like my parents were torturing me, signing me up for all these things and pushing me hard, they were expressing their love and felt that they were doing their job as my parents. They felt that their main job as parents were not to always tell me I love me but rather to push me and make sure that I had the tools to lead a happy and successful life later. It was from that moment on that I realized everything my parents do is because they love me; they drive me everywhere I need to be, spend money on classes for me even though they won’t buy themselves designer clothes or the new tool they’ve been eyeing for months, cook for me and tell me to focus on school, and sacrifice their own lives for mine.
Through conversations, both good and bad, I was able to understand my parents, appreciate them, and truly comprehend all the love they hold for me; my parents became more comfortable with expressing themselves to me and I to them. But for a lot of people, the discovery of this middle ground never occurs. This leads to children growing up and drifting away from their parents who they never felt loved them because they didn’t experience the same type of love as the one so commonly portrayed in the world around us; rather than having kids that will take care of them like they did with them, they are left wondering what they did wrong.
There needs to be a shift in Western culture that allows subtle expressions of love to not only be appreciated, but also normalized so that Asian Americans and families with similar love cultures can feel loved and can understand that it is okay and perfectly normal if they are not outwardly expressive of their love all the time. It is only then, and through more open conversations about duty not always being enough, that Asian and Asian Americans’ understanding of love can truly be comprehensive.