Guilt. We Feel It. Turns Out You Do Too.
With the great joy of being a Mash-Up American also comes great guilt. You can choose the best of multiple cultures! But what if you ignore your mom’s — does that mean you love your dad more? You can sorta speak four languages! But you can’t really communicate with your grandmother. You’ve fallen in love with someone from a different country and you get to taste and experience so many new things! But you’ve made your parents sad they won’t have [insert religion/culture/race here] grandchildren. You’re not alone. We here at The Mash-Up Americans feel guilty every day! So let’s all release our guilt monsters.
Here, we’ll start.
“My Spanish is way better than my Korean, and I can communicate better with my husband’s relatives in Colombia than I can with my Korean halmunee in Chicago. I understand most everything that is said to me in Korean, but I can barely stumble through ordering soondooboo chigae and galbi without getting nervous and embarrassed. I mean, soondooboo and galbi are super important, and nobody can get away with talking smack about me behind my back, but I wish I’d made keeping Korean (my first language) a priority.” [Editor’s note: In an incredible turn of events, Amy ACCIDENTALLY EMAILED THIS STATEMENT TO HER MOTHER. Her mom said it was okay, and that keeping a language is hard if you don’t have lots of places to practice it. Amy still feels guilty, and it is somehow so much worse that her mother is understanding of the issue. Life is complicated.]
“My mom speaks 6 languages (Spanish, English, Hebrew, Portuguese, French, German) and speaks all of them really well. I am fluent in Spanish, although I feel embarrassed speaking to my family in Spanish. I just respond in English. I understand Portuguese very well and can communicate, but it’s really more Portunol (Spanish Portuguese hybrid). How will I teach my kids? What will this look like? Am I lazy? Stupid? Why didn’t I listen to my mom when I was little?”
“I date non-Asians, and though my parents have never explicitly expressed any disappointment, I know it would permanently damage our relationship to marry one. It would be ideal to end up with someone my parents can communicate with, but with my current track record, I don’t see that happening.”
Anonymous, a many-striped Latino
“I feel guilty when I see Latinos that are less fortunate then myself. I had the good fortune of being born into a poor but loving family with a mother and father. Their stability and belief in education allowed my sister and I to successfully move beyond the cycle of poverty that can trap low-income Latino families. When I see busboys or construction workers, I wonder why it was me born into my family and not them.”
Anonymous, Irish Catholic-American
“From birth, my Irish Catholic upbringing instilled in me a healthy sense of guilt. Most days I feel guilty about something. Lucky for me, it’s not debilitating, it’s my Jiminy Cricket. As a newly Mashed-Up American, via my marriage to a Korean-American fella, my guilt has evolved. Maintaining my own identity in the face of honoring my Roman Catholic family and respecting the Christian customs of my new Korean family has forced me to check my guilt. My Mash-Up experience clearly demonstrates that guilt requires a great deal of energy. As a result of being pulled in three directions, I’ve trained myself to pick and choose what to feel guilty about.”
Peter Lee, Taiwanese-Chinese-American
“3 things. Even though I joke about it sometimes, I’m very not proud to say I’m freaking illiterate in my native language. I even made several concerted efforts to be more fluent in Chinese reading and writing, including Sunday school as a child, a dedicated language immersion trip to Taiwan, and taking ~2 years of Chinese in college. Yet, they ALL failed to learn me good…and even these days my spoken Mandarin is declining such that I believe my Chinglish is worst than a 3rd grader’s Mandarin. And piano. I totally failed as a “good Chinese boy” and gave up piano when I was 13 or so. I really do regret this, not from that Asian stereotype standpoint, but a genuine wish that I was a real actual musician as opposed to a for-fun “disc jockey.”
And finally…devotion to family. I don’t call or visit enough to either my mom or dad. I know they complain about this to friends and family behind my back. Last year, my favorite cousin even questioned my commitment to the family when I didn’t call her when I was in town. Lately, when I hang out with my family, I feel a sense of extreme guilt, as if all my family is judging me, and for whatever reason my time with them isn’t as super care-free and fun as before. I also worry a lot about what’s going to happen when my mom and dad start to need home living assistance. Do I go back for a lengthy stay? Do I put them in a nursing home? All of this is complicated by the fact that I have an American wife with Western values that don’t align completely with Chinese tradition.”
“A couple things. Though I have followed in one of my parents’ footsteps professionally, I feel as if I have not done so with enough conviction. This could be something having to do with an immigrant’s mindset, but it could just be because I am the first born. Also, I will be trying to speak Hebrew with my new son, even though I am not a native speaker, and it will be more difficult than speaking in English. I feel preemptively guilty that I might give up on this. That’s a pretty good one, no? But this is the big one: I feel completely detached from my mother’s culture, and find it not nearly as compelling and fascinating and wonderful as my ancestors’ culture… Why I gotta be judgin/choosin?”
Jenny Ufford, Irish-Puerto-Rican-American
“I am half Puerto Rican and definitely aspire to have all kinds of spicy Latina attitude, but I just identify with my white Irish side, because (long story) my mom grew up away from my grandmother and only knows like 10 words in Spanish. Where is my true shame? I check Latina in every demographic box possible, including when I applied to college. So does my brother, Sean Michael O’Shea, who was a National Merit Hispanic Scholar. Sorry about that!”
“Sighhhhhhhhh. Guilt. Where do I even begin? Where does a super-Christian-raised Korean-American who married a non-Korean Jewish agnostic begin in a discussion around cultural/religious/family guilt? There are an infinite number of angles to come at this thing, but I hesitate to even think too hard about it for fear that it will bring up a whole buncha buried shit. And to be completely honest, with two young kids I have no time to see a therapist to bury it back down. So I’ll just say that there are two big guilt elephants that take up a pretty big space in my heart. First is passing language to my children. My Korean just isn’t strong enough to use daily with my kids so they’re pretty much only going to know how to say hello, goodbye, kiss, fart and rice. And church fellowship. My oldest friends are the ones I made in church when I was probably 4 or 5, and because I no longer attend, for a multitude of reasons I don’t want to get into, my kids won’t have that benefit, and that makes me feel a little sad.”
Jessica Alpert, Salvadoran-Jewish-American
My Spanish is quite strong, but I am totally falling down on the job of speaking it to my twin toddlers. Why? It still feels like my second language and I feel a bit like a fraud. Shouldn’t I just communicate with them in what comes most naturally? The language I dream in? This is something I struggle with at least three to four days a week. And that’s a lot of guilt.
PT Black, Episcopalian-Jewish-American
“I feel guilty that I haven’t told my priest mom that I am converting to Judaism. I feel guilty that I couldn’t publish my recent story on Facebook, lest my sister see. I feel guilty that honoring my ancestors requires disrespecting my parents, especially my father’s hyper Christian side. I feel guilty that I have traced my lineage back four hundred years (on both sides!) but don’t know my father’s birthday. (I know it’s sometime in early April. I remember my mothers (January 1) but forgot to call her. Guilt.) I feel guilty that I’ve talked to my pretty cousins a dozen times this year, but haven’t spoken to the not-so-pretty cousins in a decade. (Oh yes, I went there. In for a penny, in for a motherfucking pound.) I feel guilty that my hyper-Christian grandmother called my cousin’s Christian college the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” I responded saying our side preferred Harvard, full stop. I feel guilty that my father put a barrel next to my bed as a kid that said “pennies for Harvard” and that I chose Yale instead (Don’t cry for me!).
I feel guilty that when I asked after my grandmother’s health, my father said she’s fine and spontaneously told me nobody expected me to attend her (eventual) funeral. I feel guilty that I prefer my younger niece because she has my eyes and my birthday. That’s a lot of guilt. To make it all worse? I feel guilty that the emotion of guilt itself shows preferential bias to my Jewish side. And worry that expressing guilt is a betrayal of my parents, which in itself contradicts a central tenet of Judaism. Oy Vey. I feel guilty for drinking scotch whenever I think about this stuff.”