Since I only see my parents during the weekend, I rarely have a chance to have deep and moving conversations with my mom. Earlier tonight after we had our Thanksgiving meal, my mom asked me what the meaning of Thanksgiving was all about. I couldn’t give her a direct translation of the word, but instead I gave her examples of the kind of appreciation shown by people during this holiday.
By doing so, my mom shared an old memory of the family back when we had just immigrated to the United States. We were so poor, and like many of our relatives and friends that came over, we lived off welfare and food stamps, while my parents worked the most low paying jobs that even typical Americans probably didn’t know existed. We never ate out, always ate in, and only bought food that was on sale.
But, despite all this, culturally my parents could never neglect the Chinese Lunar New Year. Every year, just before the new year began, my parents took us on a trip to Chinatown to buy a brand new set of clothes. For me it was always a new shirt, new pants, and new shoes if needed. I always had a haircut as well. We always had to be presentable because the new year was a new start. It was time to let go of any difficult past (notice I did not say forget) and move on to a blissful future.
My parents were forced to rethink what was most important for the family. We didn’t have much, but my parents decided on how to make the most of what they had. I was too young and naive to understand how poor we really were. Each day I had more than enough food to eat, and my parents took us to the park to play. I had friends and ate ice cream that my grandma bought for me after school. As far as I was concerned, life seemed great. Looking back, I know this is what my parents wanted. They wished for my sisters and I to focus on a better future, and not be disrupted by a troubled past. Everything was relative. I never knew I was poor because my parents did their best to make sure we didn’t feel poor. It was only when I left for college that I genuinely realized how tough and difficult life was for my parents. Things had to be shielded from us in order for us to focus on our studies.
Mom had to think hard and chose what made sense. It became clear that during the toughest times, we learn and ultimately understand ourselves much more. This makes sense because we’re forced to lay everything out – everything that we thought was important to us, and only choose a few things to keep. We also realized that we didn’t need much to be happy. Happiness is a result of learning how to appreciate what we have and not continuously wonder how much happier we could be if we had more.