Friday, August 8, 2014

First-generation guilt

This past weekend Max and I drove up to downtown Athens with some friends to celebrate Max's 26th birthday. I once heard from someone that Athens has more bars per square feet than in any other place in the world. I'm not sure whether this is true, but I'm pretty sure there are more drunk people there per square foot in the world on any given weekend. If you need any further explanation on just what sort of place Athens is, please hit up Patton Oswalt for more info.

The goal for the evening and night was to go to as many new (for me and Max) bars as possible. But, the primary objective was our usual one: To drink to the point where, the next day, we would start to think the Prohibition Act might have been a pretty good idea. Somewhere along the night, between dancing at a 90s-themed bar filled with more crappy, white, co-ed dancers than you would ever want to see, ordering a round of "buttery nipples" for a group of girls who obviously don't know how to drink, and just being drunk-yelling at strangers, we settled at Walker's. It's a mostly unremarkable bar, but it wasn't jam-packed with idiots, so were definitely feeling it. I listened to my friend talk about his recent trip to Chicago. I visited Chicago with Thao back in 2011 and I remember thinking that it was my favorite city to visit so far. He told me he had plans to move there or somewhere else outside of Georgia in the next few years. He said he was ready to just "get out" and "see what else is out there." Many of my friends have said things like this, and usually only a few have actually put their money where their mouth is and gotten the hell out of dodge. I commend these brave few, but mostly I am jealous. As someone who has travelled a lot within the past decade,  the whole thing got me thinking about what is really holding me back from packing up and leaving myself.

The biggest reason I can think of for not leaving is being afraid to leave my single mother alone. She is perfectly capable, physically and financially, and currently lives with her closest sister, my aunt, Di Son. There is no real reason to be worried about leaving her behind, except that I don't know what it would say about me as a daughter. When my mother was around 13 years old, she and her siblings left Communist Vietnam to live in the US. The details about how treacherous her trip was (they sailed by boat) or how crappy it was for her and everyone else to find their footing in a brand new country where they didn't know anyone or speak the language is for another time. This is mostly because I haven't had the courage to ask my mother a lot about it because it hearing it just makes me extremely sad. The most important thing here I'll discuss is that when she left Vietnam, it was the last time she would ever see her own mother. Shortly after my mother and everyone else made it to the US and attempted to settle in, my grandmother died. She told me once that she has never gotten over the feeling of being apart from her mother and is certain it is something she'll never get used to.

I was not always very close to my mother; I was a "daddy's girl" pretty much until I was 16 or so. It's been a long, hard road to achieve the relationship that we have now. We're not best friends who can speak candidly to one another without about our hopes, dreams and fears, but we can joke around once in a while and hang out for extended periods of time without wanting to kill each other. This may sound like a run-of-the-mill mother-daughter relationship for most Americans, but for immigrant parents and their American-born kids, we might as well be the Gilmore Girls. After all of the efforts spent by both my mother and I to become as close as we are now, I think it'd be a shame to leave it all behind. Mostly, though, I think it'd be sad. My mother did not have a choice when she left her mother in Vietnam all those years ago, and the idea that I would voluntarily leave my own mother leave her just to fulfill some inexplicable desire to "get out" is something I've been having difficulty reconciling with.

I realize all of this is a product of my own thoughts and feeling, rather than that of my mother's. I suppose it's some first-generation guilt I just need to work through over time. Is the need to live away from home unique to the young only? I wonder about this because I'm often concerned about making major life decisions when I'm in my 20s, only to regret them in my 30s, 40s, etc. Because really, don't we all just end up where we started? Back at home? Maybe I should stop thinking about where I end up and focus on how I'll eventually get there. In the meantime, I'll plan a trip or two with my Thao so we can "get out" and "see what's out there," even if it's just for a glimpse.

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