Plaza Voices: Mulberry Child
In 2008, Jian Ping had the opportunity to return to China for the Olympic Games and brought her adult daughter Lisa with her. After years of tension stemming from their different cultural values and expectations, Jian was hoping this trip would help her reconnect with Lisa in a new way. While revisiting her mother’s painful past, Lisa realized how much sadness and trauma her family had experienced, and just how much it influenced her mother and her decision to immigrate. Lisa began to put faces and experiences to the names she grew up hearing, and she realized the impact her cultural history had on her mother’s life and, by extension, her own upbringing as well. Lisa finally began to understand her mother’s story. Seeing firsthand the injustice and trauma her family experienced both broke her heart and forged a new understanding of her cultural and family history.
This is the story presented in a documentary based on Jian’s memoirs, “Mulberry Child.” (Note: while these titles are not currently available at the Denver Public Library, you can request them through interlibrary loan. In the meantime, check out some of DPL's many books and movies about the immigrant experience.) The documentary does an amazing job showing not only the struggles immigrants face, but also the cultural clashes that can happen between generations in the same household. The experience of living through the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the way it affected both Jian and Lisa is a powerful example of the internal struggle faced by many immigrants and their children.
Lisa expressed in the documentary that as a child, she wanted nothing to do with being Chinese, but once she went to China, she felt very American and disconnected. In experiencing the Olympic Games with her Chinese family, she felt a powerful swell of pride and emotion for both the United States and China. Seeing how much her mother and she had ignored in their relationship gave her ideas of what they needed to work on in order to form a better one. Oftentimes, the children of immigrants can feel a disconnect between their parent’s lives and the life in their new country. Older traditions that served their families well in turbulent and traumatic situations may seem strange and outdated to their children, and out of place in a more comfortable life in the United States.
Opportunities to bring families together across cultures and generations serve to help bridge unspoken challenges and internal struggles. Grand-scale events like the Olympics are not the only things that can help people make connections with their own histories. Other events and programs can help meet this need in smaller ways every day. We need to remember that the people we meet have lived through their own difficult storms and have weathered each because of their backgrounds and relationships. The traumas that many face in their home countries and the difficulty of adapting to a new country show the strength and resilience of immigrant and refugee communities. The immigrant voice is an important part of our culture, and their stories deserve to be told.
--By Hope K.
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