The humorous struggles of teaching foreign parents American norms

Anusha Vadlamani | Staff Writer

Being able to offer advice to their kids is a staple in a parent’s life, but for parents immigrating to America, the roles are reversed. 

For these parents, their kids are the gateway to accessing the nuances of American culture. A daily part of the lives of many Mason students is being able to interpret the customs and traditions of America in a way so that their immigrant parents feel more at home in the differing culture. For football player senior Sunny Patel, an integral process of his football education was teaching his mom, who immigrated from India, how to correctly cheer during a game.

“My mom took a little getting used to American culture – the foods, the sports, the activities that we do,” Patel said. “The first time my mom came to one of my football games, she didn’t really understand when to cheer. Whenever I watched football at home, I would teach her ‘this is offense, this is when you cheer.’ It was amazing that she put the effort into learning all my chants and cheers, but she needed to go out of her way to completely learn them.”

Patel said his mother’s effort to understand aspects of American culture throughout the years has paid off because it has enabled him to relate to her more closely.

“My mom slowly started to pick up on all of the little things I talked about and started to understand,” Patel said. “At this point, I would say that my mom is 85 percent caught up with American trends. She doesn’t have an Instagram or a Snapchat, but she knows about trends. She stays up to date with that type of stuff.”

Junior Leon Chang, however, said he has gone out of his way to connect with his immigrant Chinese parents who are less aware of the latest trends.

“One time I tried to teach my parents what a meme was, but that’s sort of something you only understand when you grow up in the U.S. or when you grow up on the internet,” Chang said. “They were really confused and didn’t think it was funny. It was this moment of disconnect, and I haven’t shown them a meme since.”

The differing perspectives between Junior Ashka Shah, a first-generation Indian-American, and her dad, an immigrant from India, have sometimes led to disagreements. Shah has tried to explain to her dad why some of the actions he takes are not accepted in public but has found that he is not quite ready to give up what he is used to. 

“My dad sometimes points with his middle finger because he doesn’t know that it’s flipping someone off here,” Shah said. “When I point it out to him, he’s like ‘a finger’s a finger! What do you have against the middle finger?’”

Shah, like many others, feels like she has the responsibility of making sure that her parents are able to blend into American culture effortlessly without sticking out. 

“Sometimes the things he does may be considered offensive in American culture, so I feel like I have to teach him about that,” Shah said. “It looks better when he’s able to follow American traditions at work so I feel like I should be the one to show him so that he knows.”

Junior Rachel Zhan’s responsibilities extend beyond just teaching her grandparents what is acceptable in public and what is not. She has also had to act as a translator for her grandparents, who speak very little English. Zhan’s grandparents frequently collect soybeans from the field near her house and, when they had a run-in with the law, Zhan was the one to explain the situation.

 “One time they were stopped by a police officer who asked them what they were doing and they don’t really know English so they just kept pushing the stroller,” Zhan said. “They weren’t doing anything illegal so I kept egging them on, but I told them to avoid the police next time.”


Junior Rachel Zhan demonstrates how she becomes the teacher at home.


Zhan’s grandparents aren’t the only ones that Zhan has had to help with the culture shock. Despite her mom living in America for the past 19 years, Zhan still continues to face difficulties helping her mom assimilate into American culture.

“It’s not like you can go up to someone and be like ‘oh here all the trends that are happening in America,’” Zhan said. “It’s only something you can pick up on if you’re in the atmosphere constantly, and my mom is not so it’s kind of difficult to teach her everything that is happening.”

Despite the cultural roadblocks, Zhan said the support her mom offers her is unwavering.

“Even though sometimes I get frustrated when she doesn’t understand the things I’m trying to tell her, it’s still the little things she does,” Zhan said. “I come home and my bed is made, and there’s food on the table, and I have a home to come back to and that’s because of my mom. She’s always been like ‘you can do it’ no matter what.”