the privileged generatio
Posted June 7, 2012on:
Ma. Ti’m and I often have our discussion with regards to how well provided for our children are, both materially and emotionally. We wonder what kind of human beings will our kids turn out. As first generation Vietnamese in the US, Ma. Ti’m and many people I know share a similar background. Even for people who have never had to grow up eating cassava or barley instead of rice like me, I still understand the basic longings and dreams of my generation of Vietnamese youths who grew up in Vietnam post 1975.
There were basic rules we grew up with, such as we never asked for things or food when we saw them for sale or when we craved for them, because it was clearly understood that buying on a whim was out of question. There were things we laugh about now that we hid furiously back then – when did you get to meet your first pair of underwear? Or if a subject is brought up such as “stolen slippers” (ma^’t de’p), all of us would immediately remember the sense of fear, despair, and anger we had when it happened to us. That was the material part.
We also share the harsher upbringing style of our parents. The ones who were fearsome God to us, who had the power to decide everything, who would deal out punishments without much explanation, who rarely talked to us except to give instructions of lectures. Even the nice and gentle ones, we were still unable to confine in them things that tormented us as children or young adults, just because it seemed improper to share. We don’t remember being read to, or had stories told to specifically entertain us. Many of us had fantasies of falling ill, just to get some attention from worn out and stressed out adults whose strings were being stretched thin in the day to day challenge of finding food and maintaining shelter.
Contrast that to our children, and the questions they asks these days. May wonders why I didn’t wear pants nor diapers in my baby photos. Because I didn’t have them, my child. Why didn’t you have them mommy? Because people were still so poor, if they could cut down on any unnecessary luxury, they did. Clothes and diapers on babies were luxury items back in those days, my child. Why? Why?
When will I tell May or will I ever tell May about my hours spent crying because I was left at home at the last minute as a punishment while others went out? They probably just went to church, or maybe to a park, who knows. These days, I have to cajole May into going out sometimes – and not to run errants, but specifically to entertain her. May says, no mommy, I’d much rather stay where I am.
I am happy that she’s that comfortable and happy at home. This is a home that is made for her, catering to her every need and preference, coddling all her senses with books and toys everywhere. Whenever she wants to experiment with something or touch something, chances are she doesn’t hear “no, you can’t” The thing is, my house looks like a dump compared to other houses. Things that May has are mostly hand-me-down or craiglisted or traded in. But still, I don’t think she would be able to imagine the level of poverty of the Viet Nam I knew. My brother-in-law talks about this phenomenon too, as he’s soon to become a father. We both wonder how our kids will turn out.
We don’t have doubt that they will be good people, but we don’t know if we would make our children’s life experience “less” by giving them more. But my generation, we understand yearning and the delayed gratification so well. We practiced restraint and dealt with loss, often through sarcasm and/or humour. We all went to work and worked so hard because as children, it was made clear that no money nor wealth could ever come from our parents. We had dreams, but we also had common sense.
Some thing happened this past spring when a relative was going through the college application process with her daughter. The girl is #1 at her school, with Ivy Leagues looking at her application closely. Yet, she fought with her mom almost daily regarding her future aspirations and had to actually move into her aunt’s house to make life easier for both for both of them. I was sympathetic to the girl (and I’m calling her girl because she’s that to me, maturity level-wise) in her desire to explore her options. She wanted to pursue humanities, possibly English or god knows what. Her mom would much rather that she goes into something that guarantees a job post graduation, pharmacy or… you know what I mean. Yes, it’s typical, but then again, there is a rationale behind it. As the mother explains to me, they are a family with solid middle class income. What it means is, the girl will not get a cent of financial aid. But, to pay her college tuition and living expenses in this economy, the family will actually have to watch their resources very carefully. So the mom said to me, “If we had money to comfortably spend and save, I would have been happy to let her explore. But we will only have enough resources for her to go through this college thing once. If she gets out and can not support herself, we have no means to give her a second chance at this.”
In my generation, I picked my major, and then I followed through, understanding that at the end of my 4 years, I must be able to support myself no matter what. I was a bit different from other kids I knew in that by the time it was my turn to enter college, my family was in a much better income bracket, I actually had to pay tuition fees. But still, it was understood without ever having to discuss it – I would take care of my own college education. My parents and siblings helped out with a few hundred a month here and there, but otherwise, I worked as many jobs as needed to procure the rest of my living and tuition expenses. So even with my major in English, my parents didn’t really worry about my ability to make a living. I have a resume full of work experience to prove that I can support myself.
In the case of the #1 girl, she has never held a job. Her parents have provided everything she needed. Also, inflation has gone way up in comparison to the minimum wage. What I was making 14 years ago would not be able to pay in-state tuition nowadays, let alone living expenses. The girl is not confident herself about her ability to generate enough income for college, due to her coddled upbringing, so she’s not making a compelling case for her independence….
In case you wanted a follow up, I suggested that the girl go to college and double major, doing all the prerequisites of one or two of whatever career fields her mom has asked her to consider, while pursuing her own field of interest. If she gets out and can’t find a job, then she can always reconsider her other career option.
People in my generation grew up like weeds, knowing that we will survive in the end. We would be terrified to do things on our own, but we were driven by the belief that there was no other way around it. People whose English is still shaky, to this day, still went on to hold a solid job, struggling every time they need to compose an email to their colleagues. People who hate their career of choice still go into their office and resign to the fact that at least they have a job and their kids are well provided for. We all stand firmly behind our decisions in life, for better or for worse.
But the privileged generation, what will drive them?