There’s one memory from my youth that is a popular family tale, often brought up over dinner to elicit laughter and joy.
In this memory, a young Queenie is maybe six years old. She is seated on the couch in their small row home, observing the interaction between her mother and aunt.
“And when she does this,” her mom shared while making a strange but familiar looking face, “It’s so funny.” Her aunt laughed in response and said another string of words that the young Queenie did not understand. All throughout this conversation, her aunt and mom are sneaking glances at the only child in the room. Then her aunt added, “It’s even more funny that she doesn’t understand us.”
Coincidentally, this was the line she understood.
It was at this moment that the young Queenie put the clues together. They were not simply having a conversation; They were talking about her! Not only that but they were laughing AT her!
Everyone is different and has different responses to different situations. Some may have addressed this situation directly with the mom and aunt and asked, “Why are you talking about me?” or “Why is that funny?” For the young Queenie, this was her cue to jump up onto the couch and scream, “Stop laughing! You are not allowed to laugh!” This only led to more adult laughter that angered the child even more. “STOP LAUGHING! No laughing allowed!”
Though this story is simply a funny one that my family enjoys retelling, it points to an interesting detail about why this was — and still is — so funny.
When my parents were raised in Vietnam, one of the first skills they learned was to obey. Obey your elders, listen to your parents, and do as you’re told. Though I was taught to obey and listen to my parents too, it was not under the same context. I listen to my parents and their instructions out of respect and trust. My parents obeyed their elders because the alternative was getting disowned, not eating dinner that day, or beaten. Never in their childhood would my parents imagine standing up to their parents and screaming, “You are not allowed to laugh!”
Reflecting on this story brings me to realize the privilege I had in my childhood. My childhood was one full of care, comfort, and ease. I was comfortable enough to express to my family what I liked and what I didn’t like in my own terms (i.e jumping on the couch). This story is such a knee-slapper for my family because who would’ve thought the child of two individuals raised on fear of their elders would stand up and commit this rebellious but hilarious act.
The gap between my parents’ generation and my generation is very large, considering the differences in cultural, emotional, and financial contexts that we grew up in. We continue to explore and navigate our differences through our shared experiences, and I am sure that in the future when I have my own children, there will be new generational differences to explore as well.