The other day my friend and I went to see Mira Nair‘s The Namesake. We both grew up in Thailand, made our way here and for better or worse are here to stay. She is however a double first generation immigrant. Her parents immigrated from Taiwan to Thailand where her family now lives. And so we find ourselves going to movies like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “The Namesake” subconsciously trying to find our stories in others and perhaps on an even deeper level trying to find answers to the questions that plague us as first generation immigrants.
Things are not quite the same as the movie. I think that we probably have more in common with the sons and daughters of the first generation immigrants. I grew up in different countries…in fact I have spent the majority of my life outside of Thailand. I never thought of myself as being particularly Thai until I am far away from it and I grapple with my self identity here. I hold on to my ‘good’ name refusing to change my last name in marriage. I patiently spell out all 20 letters that make up my entire name to confused telephone operators. Changing my name would make things so much simpler…but I am afraid that people would think I am white. That in time I would lose all my connection with my roots.
When Gogol talked changing his name, I know what he means. (By the way Kal Penn, the actor who play Golgol, is not really his birth given name…He too ‘westernized it’ ) Today people call me by my very bland nickname. Does having such a foreign and long name on my resume affect my job prospects…I think it does. But since all my jobs have been through my networks, I don’t really care.
But deeper than the name runs all the beliefs and morals that have been passed on to us by our parents. Like osmosis even if you thought you rebeled and you will never be like your parents…as you get older you realize that perhaps you are more like your parents than you thought. As you have to pick your way through the every day choices that face you as you try to build a life and a family, you compare the ways of the old world versus the new world that you find yourself and you wish that you knew and understood more of that old world.
My friend tell me that Korean American parents are much stricter and more conservative than Korean parents in Korea. Koreans in Korean have changed and adapted as the culture becomes more westernized. American Koreans have held on to what they knew to be true when they came over here and they have not budged since. They are in essence more Korean than the Koreans! Is that true for all immigrant populations here? A very strict and conservative first generation, followed by a rebellious second generation struggling to find their own interpretation of who they are.
The movie hit a little too close to home for me. Yes ,it did make me laugh and cry. It tells the story of my friends, myself and many many faceless americans that we see in the bodegas, laundromats, delis, at school, and all around us every day. With so much debate surrounding immigration, I highly recommend seeing this movie to get an understanding of a more personal side of the immigrants.