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The first generation American experience does not include knowing your parents. Although my parents and I are close, I don’t have a complete picture of who they were in Bangladesh. Our parents’ stories begin at the chapter when they moved, to first provide a better life for their children, and only second to a better life for themselves. I’m not sure what causes this unintentional secrecy but I can imagine the strength required to make this immense sacrifice came at the price of leaving behind your first life.
Last year, we went to Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King show and a part of his segment about flying before a stand up performance to see his dad in the hospital stuck with me. He got to know his dad at a point where it could’ve potentally been too late. Thinking on it, I didn’t know a lot of basic things about my mom and dad either. What are all those questions I would regret not asking my parents?
What were they like in highschool?
What's a strong belief they compromised once they moved to America?
During the holiday break, I had some time to ask. My sisters and I created a list of questions for my parents and sat them down without letting them in on too much. My parents and I are close but there is no way my three sisters and I all know the same information. We weren’t really sure what to expect but the four of us sat across from our parents and had a camera recording their answers. It was the most productive hour long conversation I’ve had with my parents. They told us their stories and I was instantly glad this opportunity was provided to us.
This experience was similar to falling in love. Time slowed down and I was completely fixated on knowing everything about them. There were laughs, sadness, reflection, and walks down narrow nostalgia. My mom described this exercise as cathartic and my dad wondered why this didn't happen more often/casually. The days following, we had more questions here and there and our parents were happy to share. My parents felt they walked away with more from this.
We never know something will happen to either us or our parents. If you have a parent (s) or grandparent (s), I encourage you to ask them simple, interesting, and tough questions. Doing this with my parents and parents-in-law has allowed me to start the new year a lasting inner peace.
Because you can’t ask Why are you like this??, here are a few of the questions but I would tailor it to your own family:
- Why did you move to America?
- What was your favorite hobby growing up?
- Which sibling are you most close with?
- We never really got to experience our grandparents, what were they like?
- Who was your first friend in America and where are they now?
- What was your major in college? What did you want to become?
- What is something that surprises you both in a good or bad way about American society?
- What’s the biggest parenting advice you’d like to pass down to us?
- How would your parents describe you?
- Were you scared when you first found out you were going to be a Mom/Dad?
- What did you like about your parents?
- Tell us something about your parents we don’t know
- What was the biggest problem you had growing up?
- What’s your greatest fear in life or with your kids?
- What’s a belief you compromised on once you moved here?
- How would your friends describe you in high school?