My Ma and Pa do not get me, but we have spent my entire adult life working through our misunderstandings and disagreements. I was raised in a heavily religious home in Dallas, Texas and attended a church that pressured families into missionary work and made them feel disloyal if they were not up to it. I hated it. Every other sermon was homophobic and sexist and I resented that my parents made me partake in this twice a week, every week, until I turned 18. I resented that they made me live by the ideals of the church by punishing me for talking to boys outside the church, dressing conservatively (only loose girls wore spaghetti straps), and even making me believe that my crushes on both sexes meant a tortured eternal afterlife.
As young as third grade, I saw college as my escape from the hood, from church, from home, and I did everything possible to make sure I got my ticket out the minute I reached legal adulthood. I got my acceptance to the University of Chicago, my top two choice, and could not have felt more relieved. I was finally getting out. My parents didn’t speak to me the entire summer before the start of freshman year. It stung but it also validated my reasons for leaving. They couldn’t understand why I would choose to go to another state, alone, and for a university they had never heard of when there were plenty of good schools in Texas. After nearly 10 years living in Chicago solita, they still do not understand me, they still pressure me to return home, but they have also taken very long and sometimes painful strides towards respecting it.
If we called each other over the phone once a month while I was in college, it meant we were on neutral terms. If we went three months without a conversation, it meant the resentment in both of us had crept back in. While I was rushing to my Human Rights class surrounded by ivory towers, my mom was getting dinner ready in Oak Cliff for her last two children in the nest. I was getting heavily politicized joining every picket line on campus while my mom was getting headaches trying to manage my dad’s spending so she could make the next bill. My time in college was no doubt the time when we grew furthest apart.
If I’m being honest, I’m not sure how that gap stopped growing. My parents could care less about my increased interests in radical politics but they did wonder why it was consuming their child’s life. I resented the religious conservative customs under which they raised me, but I also wondered why it dictated the worst parts of their parenting. Maybe we reached these realizations in sync or maybe we reached a breaking point where the yelling became too much for both of us. If I’m being honest, I really don’t know.
What I do know is that my mom and dad taught me the importance of letting go of the academic pretensions of my radical politics and speak more of their humanity. Around the same time, they slowed their lives down to tell me more about my grandparents and the family experiences that shaped them for the better and for the worst. Turns out you can’t raise five kids in a U.S. city the same way you were raised in the small farm town in Mexico. You also can’t always expect two parents del rancho in Mexico to really “get” their University of Chicago educated, Tejana raised, Chicago lovin’, tatted up daughter. It hurt to acknowledge that an already strained childhood relationship with my parents could be made worse into my college adulthood, but it is healing to know that we are both, in our own ways, invested in working on it.
Note: This was written from a place of respect for the experiences of all homegirls. But it was also written from a personal need to publicly tell a more inclusive story of the immigrant parenting experience from another homegirl’s perspective.