Remember the book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that created such a stir a few years back? Author Amy Chua sparked a national debate about the differences between the “Eastern” and “Western” ways of parenting.
Though I followed it all closely, I think the more defining story of our generation of Asian-Americans is the one about “Draggin’ Daughters,” the female members of our Asian-American families who are the caregivers for parents or other older family members.
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In the Chinese culture, traditionally it has been a “given” that the younger generation will care for our elders. Filial piety (孝, “xiào”) is the first Confucian virtue. Still, we are “draggin’” with fatigue, worry and responsibility as we care for our elders, often while shouldering myriad other demands.
Being a caregiver is difficult for anyone, but it is particularly difficult for a lot of Asian-American baby boomers who face some unique challenges on top usual demands.
For one thing, our immigrant families are often small and nuclear in nature. While other caregivers might have a supportive network of relatives, ours may be far away. So the feeling of isolation can get magnified.
We also have to take on the added task of being interpreters. And I don’t only mean translating language for older relatives who cannot communicate fluently in English. We also need to be cultural interpreters who can help our loved ones navigate the complex medical system and deal with the many legal and financial issues that come up as they grow older.
As challenging as these tasks can be, however, I embrace my role. After all, my parents came to this country in pursuit of The American Dream for us, their children. I need to make sure that Mom’s final years don’t turn into a nightmare.
Mom is in relatively good health, despite having a chronic health condition. She needs help managing her most basic personal needs, and she knows that I am here for her. I have to be. I will make my best attempt to pay down my debt of gratitude for all the love and caring she has shown to me and my two siblings throughout our lives.
As I see it, this time we now have together reflects a divine plan to make sure I (finally!) learn how to cook – writing down Mom’s special recipe for her one-of-a-kind hot and sour soup and preserving her secret to the best eggroll in the world (peanut butter in the meat filling, who knew?!). She and I have been given the precious gift of time to record her riveting life story of leaving the Chinese mainland as a teenage refugee student in the late 1940s.
Because Mom left her family behind, she never had the chance to care for her own parents in their old age, her deepest regret in life. I know she would have done her utmost to ensure that their old age was comfortable, dignified and meaningful. Mom would have been a Dragon, not Draggin’, Daughter.
I hope I can transform from the Draggin’ Daughter to a Dragon Daughter, who honors her mother’s indomitable spirit of overcoming challenges and fulfills her immigrant hopes for us in this land of freedom and opportunity.
– Lily Liu