Immigrant parents won't drop the subject of their former country, help
August 15, 2014 10:32 AM   Subscribe

It's been 32 year since they immigrated to this country, but pretty much the one and only thing my family ever talks about is the home country, and it drives me crazy. I can't change them, but I could probably handle it better. Details and the plea for help within.

I am the adult child of Iranian immigrants. I'm born in the USA and identify as a Persian-American (ethnicity dash nationality. I'm not Iranian). My entire life, the number one topic of conversation within my immediate and extended family has been:

1) how horrible things are in Iran now
2) how great things in Iran used to be
3) Such-and-such celebrity is 1/4th Iranian, isn't that wonderful
4) Iran Iran Iran Iran Iran Iran Iran

Three decades have passed since they left Iran- for both my parents and much of my family, that's more than half of their entire lives. I understand that emigrating from a conflict is an extremely traumatic event that leaves a deep mark, but sometimes I feel that their expectations of how much *I* should care are far too high.

This morning my mom and I got into a (minor) argument because I was not appropriately outraged that Iran photoshopped Maryam Mirzakhani, the first winner of the Fields Medal for Mathematics, into a headscarf for newspapers there. My response was along the lines of "why are you surprised, this is what they do." What I wanted to and did not say was "I don't really care about what Iran does, because I'm not Iranian and I'm tired of this subject." I tend against nationalistic feelings and don't feel like the accomplishments of a person of Iranian origin have anything to do with Iran or with me.

I don't want to take away their right to talk about a subject that they obviously care about deeply- fine, talk about Iran amongst yourselves until the cows come home- but I want them to stop trying to force me to share their interest. As far as I'm concerned my only connection with Iran is that I speak the language and I eat the food and am the progeny of two former nationals.

Has anyone else had this kind of issue? I want to be sensitive to them, but also, Persian families are not exactly respectful of personal boundaries and I don't have a lot of faith that anything I could say would actually result in changing their behavior. So-- how can *I* change to make this less bothersome?
posted by tumbleweedjack to Human Relations (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This would seem to be a question that would be very difficult to answer unless you were familiar with Persian culture.

I can understand why your folks might be so engaged with Iranian politics and culture. In our household we identify more with Japan than anything else, although my wife and I rarely discuss Japanese politics.

So I get why your folks might be so plugged into a place they left 32 years ago (I have Persian friends here in Canada, and Persian culture reminds me of Japanese culture for a variety of reasons).

Anyway, when your mom is angry with you for showing no interest in Persian culture and Iranian politics, what is she really trying to say to you? I doubt that this conflict can be attributed to culture.

In what other areas do you have conflict with your parents? And is this just another way for your mother to voice dissatisfaction?

While I understand that in many cultures around the world outside of North America, it's pretty common for adult children to continue to live at home until marriage, do your parents want you around?
posted by Nevin at 10:43 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yup, child of immigrants here. My parents aren't quite as zealous as your parents, but sometimes it goes there. In my case, it's not as bad because my parents can actually visit Taiwan.

Your parents miss Iran. That's powerful. And because Iran is tantalizingly accessible through various media, they cling to it like a stalker. Their ability to idealize its past and vilify its present is magnified by this longing. You know their behavior probably won't change, not even for you.

I change the subject when it gets to be too much. Or I direct the conversation about *home_country* to a topic that actually does interest me; history, food, what it was like growing up. This gives them an outlet that I don't have to fake interest in. And it gives them a chance to let it out.
posted by Mercaptan at 10:43 AM on August 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If they hadn't had to leave, then you would be Iranian like them. The fact that you aren't is a stinging reminder that their lives were uprooted, and the fact that this doesn't really bother you means that there's no fixing it- even if everything in Iran went back to the way it was, you would still be American.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:50 AM on August 15, 2014 [35 favorites]

They want you to be more like them and you want them to be more like you. Neither of these things are going to happen, so redirect your efforts toward something else and practice not getting agitated by it. It's a common issue among families where one generation is immigrant and the next is first generation. It's especially common when immigrants have to leave under duress and witness their homeland being destroyed.

Why are you getting so upset by this? What's really bothering you? Are you somehow embarrassed by their lack of desire to completely assimilate? Your reaction seems disproportionately strong.
posted by quince at 10:50 AM on August 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

I'm not an immigrant but I lived for nearly 10 years in China, and it became a big part of my identity and experience. In the US, where I am now, if I didn't have people to talk about China with, if I didn't have opportunities to speak Chinese, I'd feel that a pretty big part of me was erased. I imagine for them that feeling is even stronger-they keep talking about Iran because they miss it, it's part of them, and they have few outlets to express that.

Maybe you can think of your situation as being one of having been enriched by different cultural viewpoints, than as being annoyed, and it would help. Imagine having parents who were completely unworldly and only knew about things happening in the US- that might be worse.

Also, you could think of it as an opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of Iran- maybe proactively ask them questions to both fend off the comments that are annoying to you and also to involve and interest yourself more. They in turn may be gratified by your interest.
posted by bearette at 10:59 AM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: > Why are you getting so upset by this? What's really bothering you? Are you somehow embarrassed by their lack of desire to completely assimilate? Your reaction seems disproportionately strong.

This is not a helpful approach. It is perfectly natural to be upset when your parents ignore your wishes and treat you as an extension of themselves. Let's give advice without trying to psychoanalyze the asker.

tumbleweedjack: You're in a tough situation. As you say, you're not going to change them. I think all you can do is try to change the subject: agree heartily with whatever Iran-centric thing they just said ("Yeah, that's terrible!") and then quickly say something about your own life or something you're excited by. Assuming they love and care about you, they should be willing to run with it, at least for a while. Beyond that, all you can do is grin and bear it.
posted by languagehat at 11:01 AM on August 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: quince: there's a larger issue of me communicating my needs to them clearly and in a non-confrontational way, and having them be ignored altogether. This is one of the main branches on that tree, I guess. It's not that I want them to assimilate for *my* good- I just see them as holding on tight to something that causes them pain, while regularly complaining about everything that's wrong with America (there's plenty, but come on), the country that *they chose* and which provides them the life they now enjoy.

Admittedly a big part of this is bitterness at not being able to relate fully with either Iranian or with American culture. *I* can't assimilate or fit in because I am forced to wade back and forth between cultures and I'm tired of feeling like an outsider wherever I stand.
posted by tumbleweedjack at 11:02 AM on August 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Your parents are Iranian. They may feel like you are rejecting Iran and thus rejecting them. I don't think that means you have to be concerned about every event in Iran, but I would think that caring about the big stuff and showing some level of interest in your heritage would go a long way. Why not go with them the next time you visit if you haven't already. Pretty much any place you visit is interesting, so I would think going might make this all seem less boring to you.

Anyway, I don't mean to be unsympathetic. I'm the child of immigrants, too, and though my parents aren't as interested in following political type things, they are much more attentive to the minutiae of my relatives' daily lives than I am (example: being upset that my cousin was making some non-optimal vacation choices, wanting me to try to call and talk her out of them, and being upset that I think she's an adult and can have a crappy vacation if she wants to). The thing I try to remember is that these people who are people I'm related to and who really are very nice, but aren't really in my daily life, are much more to my parents. They grew up seeing their siblings every day through young adulthood, involved in their marital and life choices, and just plain old close. That they're not physically close anymore isn't going to change how they feel about them and caring about their kids/grandkids/greatgrandkids is part of their way of being close to their siblings.

The other thing I try to keep in mind, is that when I'm outside of Canada, I do pretty much the same thing. I mean I'm annoyed that sometimes it seems like my parents will watch just about any crap on TV as long as it's in Spanish (not actually true, just coincidence that the shows they watch that I hate happen to be in Spanish, but it feels that way to me anyway). But when outside of Canada, I watch any old crap I can find in English. Anything. Even if the alternative language is one I speak. I just like the familiarity of English.

And if I lived abroad and had kids it would make me sad to think that those kids would in a real sense not be American. It's part of the reason it was so important to me to move back to Canada when I did live abroad.

Do you think if you ever moved abroad you would just stop being American and following American-this-and-that? Would you stop being American? If so, when? 10 years? 20 years? 32? Based on all the American expats on metafilter, it doesn't seem so, but there's obviously some selection bias there. Wouldn't you be sad if you up and moved to Italy and your kids were Italian and not American?

So anyway, my random thoughts are: I understand that they care a lot about Iran, I understand that you care less, and I understand why it's important to them that you seem to care. Put yourself in their shoes and it will seem more understandable and less annoyong.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:05 AM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

They miss their homeland, and haven't really made their new home their own. I don't think you can change them. But you could ask them to talk about it in ways that would interest you. As them what it was like to grow up there, ask about your grandparents and extended family, look up pictures together on google, of landmarks, great architecture, botany, etc.
posted by theora55 at 11:10 AM on August 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

You have to remember that not only did your parents lose their country, they probably lost the upper-class status they enjoyed before the revolution (that's my read from 3 years of observation of my ex's Iranian-American family) to be dispersed across half the world to whatever ambiguous status they've managed to claw out for themselves in an alien culture. Their pride in themselves is bound up in the Iran That Was, and that will never change. I imagine the same dynamic plays out in Cuban-American families, or any diaspora where the upper crust was forced to flee.
posted by Captain l'escalier at 11:10 AM on August 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Their constant harping on the iniquities of the new regime is the distaste of aristocracy for the peasantry who disinherited them of the country they were supposed to rule.
posted by Captain l'escalier at 11:20 AM on August 15, 2014

Best answer: Sounds like this is a battle between "I want to assimilate!" and "We want you to feel a part of our homeland!" And it's ultimately unresolvable. While I respect your desire to have your parents acknowledge your boundaries, preferences, and goals -- I struggle with that too -- it seems like a quixotic quest.

Try tackling this on the tactical level instead. Prepare topics of conversation unrelated to Iran. Introduce them one-by-one. Steer conversations about Iranian mathematicians into conversations about women in STEM. Steer conversations about headscarves into conversations about fashion. Channel your frustration or preferred responses into conversations with friends, instead of responding to your parents in the moment.

After all, even if they wanted to respect your wishes, they may have trouble thinking of anything outside of Iran. Show them how!
posted by equipoise at 11:22 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Captain l'escalier: I'm sure you can imagine how voicing that belief does not net me any points. I learned long ago to keep that to myself.

Everyone: 'grin and bear it, then deflect' seems to be the only practical advice in this situation. It helps to know that I'm not the only one with this issue and I appreciate hearing about how other people dealt with their similar situation.
posted by tumbleweedjack at 11:29 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't know-it was just an observation; I suppose my only advice (which I readily admit that I utterly failed at in my own engagement with greater Persia) is to find some way to engage with your parents' pride in themselves in what they've managed to accomplish since their exile, in how they've managed to hold the family together under trying circumstances (if they have), whatever professional success they've enjoyed, etc.
posted by Captain l'escalier at 11:46 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want to add one thing. I see a lot of people implying and the OP seeming to agree that one is American or Persian-American or Iranian. This is not so. One can be both fully American and fully Iranian or Fully Persian-American and fully American, or all three. An American is not a person without any other ethnicity or ethnic identity, or at least shouldn't be.

I'm reminded of a story dreadnought likes to tell about meeting a Canadian diplomat while living the US. Dreadnought is Canadian and British and has a British accent. So he went up to the diplomat and said "I may not sound like it, but I'm Canadian.." and the diplomat immediately replied "A Canadian can sound like anything." Well, an American (or Canadian) can be any nationality or ethnicity. Your parents being Iranian and choosing to remain very Iranian, doesn't make them any less American (or vice versa). Your being American doesn't make you any less Persian-American (or vice versa). Identities are not zero sum. You can be 100% both, or 100% several. If anyone tries to tell you or make you feel otherwise, call the Canadian consulate and have someone come straighten them out.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:09 PM on August 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I think you need to associate more with second generation immigrants. They're your tribe, not Iranians or children of Americans. They will uniquely get you and your feelings of resentment and not belonging.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:12 PM on August 15, 2014 [16 favorites]

A few years ago, I read on the internet about a proposed bill to overturn Roe vs Wade and outlaw abortion in the United States. The news article was written as though this was quite likely to happen, and that in a few years, nobody would be able to get an abortion, not even rape victims. I was horrified at how that would affect me and everyone I know. Now if I accidentally got pregnant, I'd be forced to go through with having an unwanted child?!

For a moment, I imagined my future where this bill had passed in the United States. I felt strongly that I would protest. I would protest for as long as it took to make things go back to how they are now, for years if necessary.

This gave me a lot of empathy for people who are stuck in the past and stuck thinking about their country of origin. This horrible scenario actually happened to them. Their rights were revoked -- not just abortion but sometimes also education and other freedoms.

Are there rights that are really important to you? For example, if tomorrow all progress on gay marriage was reversed, and all existing gay marriages were retroactively voided, would you be understanding of gay people who would protest bitterly for years? If next year it became acceptable again to have racially-segregated schools and buses, would you understand why people might protest it for 30 years?

Having this empathy makes me not irritated when immigrants talk obsessively about their country. I extrapolate to how I would feel if a similar thing happened in the US, and then I feel like "there but for the grace of God go I" as I listen to the immigrant.
posted by vienna at 1:14 PM on August 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, if your parents know that you empathize, they will be less pushy about convincing you.

In my imagined scenario where Roe vs Wade was overturned by a new bill, let's say my daughter grows up only knowing abortion as illegal. If she told me, "Eh, who cares, I don't really need abortion, it doesn't affect me," I would go nuts convincing her. But if my daughter says, "Yes, that is horrible and I really wish abortion can be legalized again," I would know she understood and then we can move on to talk about what we're eating for lunch or whatever.
posted by vienna at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am a first-generation Indian-American. I wholeheartedly sympathize with you. Sometimes I get frustrated watching my immediate family hole themselves up by only consuming Indian media, listening to Indian radio, paying exorbitantly for Indian satellite TV, etc. I am the youngest on both sides of my family, so even cousins of mine who grew up in the US grew up in an era where there was a much stronger impulse to associate only with other Indian families and "keep the culture alive" (I suppose we didn't trust the billion or so people that we left on the subcontinent to keep it going).

Ironically, I find myself coping by adopting tactics similar to my family's: I listen to a lot of music by first-generation immigrants (Heems, formerly of Das Racist fame, is a favorite of mine for this--what's really Indian?/I don't feel American/that's probably why I'm mixing up the medicine), I read about people like me a lot, I hang out with people who have experiences which are somewhat congruent (people of color, queer, etc.). I actually find a lot of strange comfort in academic writing about the diaspora--it helps me understand my family's circumstances and in some cases (e.g., the model minority myth) why they are the way they are.

It didn't help that I really did not identify with other Indian-Americans during high school and college. A lot of the socialization was culturally or religiously centered. I am extremely critical of a lot of that stuff. It didn't work out. I resented it for a long time--I guess I haven't really figured that one out.

Everyone needs their people and to feel like they're at home, like they belong--that's what I attribute my family's sometimes hard-for-me choices to. I need it too, and unfortunately it doesn't just come neatly packaged in a country, culture, or family. That's okay. I remind myself that I am fluent in other languages and ways of thinking. I remind myself to be grateful for what I have and to just keep putting myself out there: people who get it exist, and when you find them, it's pretty fucking amazing.
posted by thack3r at 2:42 PM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also 2nd-generation; parents immigrated, but from another country, one that has suffered political problems and economic decline since they [voluntarily] left. They've assimilated, but retain connections here with others of their background. (Luckily, my parents gave up pressuring me to identify with their culture after I subjected them to a week of howling resistance to the suggestion of taking heritage-related dance classes, at age 11 or so.) Although they haven't personally experienced the kind of grief particular to reluctant immigrants, they are hugely pained by the changes to their home country, follow the politics and news back 'home', and do what they can to help those closest to them who remain and are struggling.

I wrestled with the thing of, although it's true that I'd be over there now if it weren't for a fluke, does genetic and historical accident mean I'm obligated to be invested in the problems of that country, vs the ones evident in the only country I've known all my life? I decided, kind of, not, because I have limited resources, and I think it's fair enough for me to apply them towards things I connect with. I don't think it's 'bad faith' or whatever to focus on that; on the contrary, I feel it's more honest than effortfully trying to construct a sense of loyalty and commitment based on essentialist ideas about roots and blood and nation or whatever (only because it would be effortful for me; I think it's fair enough for someone else who does find value and resonance there). I don't actually say that to my parents, of course, and I'm lucky in that they sort of know it anyway. But I sympathize with them, and try to just listen when they express frustration and sadness; I agree that 'listen and deflect' is an excellent strategy.

As far as your own identity, I think, just, continue to live your life and build your own commitments. Identity doesn't have to be fundamentally organized around nationhood or ethnicity. If it's a meaningful problem to you, absolutely, talking to other 2nd-gen people will help. But you can also focus on other kinds of activities and commitments that offer you a sense of value.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:22 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It might help to reframe this as your parents wanting you to understand where they come from in order for you to be able to understand them. It's not all of it, but at least in my immigrant parents' case, it is part of it.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 7:32 PM on August 15, 2014

One thing that's helped me as a third-culture kid is realizing that the search for home is my home. Accepting that made it a lot easier to not dwell on the feelings of anomie I get in both America and my native country, from which I recently moved back.

Otherwise, Omnomnom's advice is right on the money.
posted by obliterati at 11:26 PM on August 15, 2014

I once knew an Iranian who came here for university. He spoke of his family's loss of personal freedom and recalled the distress of his mother and sister at no longer being able to be seen in their fashionable clothes. They became very conservative but still, one day his mother encountered reproach because her beautiful shoes were just visible in public. A boy's view but real loss for his mother and sister; it was not just about the shoes. You have some good answers here and I hope they help you cope. It sounds very difficult--parents usually are. My best to you.
posted by Anitanola at 12:37 AM on August 16, 2014

I wonder if there is a social club rooted in their age group/origins they could go to? Could scratCh an itch for them and take some pressure of you?
posted by tanktop at 5:09 AM on August 16, 2014

Could you turn conversations about Iran into conversations about your parents? This only applies if you're interested in your parents' childhood. I enjoy hearing about my parents' memories of their family and life many years ago, but I find they rarely bring it up spontaneously. So sometimes I try to find opportunities to say "what was that like when you were a kid?" - to see if I can get a little story out of them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:25 AM on August 16, 2014

I can relate both to you and your parents, as an ethnic OtherAsian but also multigenerationth Filipino and immigrant Canadian, somehow back living in the Philippines. Yes, I am very much a Third Culture kid.

Firstly, immigrant families living in host cultures have a different relationship to their homeland and what's at stake. In my opinion, they end up being more conservative, cliquish, and religious than their counterparts in their homeland. Their culture is stuck in time, and they can be very intense because keeping up to date with their homeland reclaiming that part of their lives has to be very intentional in that environment. Ironically, immigrant families are less intense when they have more present ties to the homeland and fly back yearly or something. But if your family hasn't been back to Iran since then... man, I imagine that they would be intense.

Admittedly a big part of this is bitterness at not being able to relate fully with either Iranian or with American culture. *I* can't assimilate or fit in because I am forced to wade back and forth between cultures and I'm tired of feeling like an outsider wherever I stand.

I can completely relate to this, and it's even more complicated by geography because I can't see myself committing to living in one country for life. Living in one country for more than 5 years currently would feel like I am chopping off an arm. I feel like I have body parts scattered across my multiple homes, and I keep desiring to move to the other home so I can reunite with that part of myself, but I can't have them all at the same time. But I just want to be whole! Why does it have to be so haaard?

And having your parents insist that you should care about certain things, or behave in a certain way because you are X identity that you don't relate to is infuriating. It's like they're denying who you are, and they're not interested in actually relating to you. It feels like they're more interested in shaping you into who they want you to be, when it has nothing to do with who you are. Identity politics within immigrant families can be very emotional and tricky. (Yes, I declared once to my grandma as a teenager, "I am not OtherAsian! I am Filipino!" and she burst into tears.) And it's also awful when they use "you're too whitewashed, we didn't realize that you'd turn out this way" as a way to shame or police your behaviours.

Not sure if they ever talked that way to you, but man, immigrant families just have their own special stressful dynamics, and part of relieving it is just finding other folks who completely understand. Sometimes you don't need to resolve these tensions. You just need people who talk to who are in the same situation as you, so you both can commiserate and laugh it off. So yeah, look for Persian-Americans who really understand that part of your family life and your own frustrations.

But in terms of how to relate to your family, I think you need to separate the times when they're being all "you should care about X because you're Persian" from the times when they really just want to share this hugely important part of themselves to you. You don't have to care about that specific topic or share that specific opinion, but you should continue to honour that need for your parents to remember, to reaffirm, and to value that part of their lives.

I'm not sure if you've ever lived outside of North America, but despite having spent most of my life in Canada, I feel a lot of relief living back in Asia. So I wonder what it's like for your parents.

During my last year in Canada, I felt this great fear of being erased. I could only remember my first language in my dreams, but when I woke up, it was all gone, as if I had gone mute. Then in my daily life, I'd encounter many ignorant people who would treat me like I am this perpetual foreigner, as if I don't speak English, as if I'm this submissive exotic woman, and white men would hit on me in some Asian language I don't understand (seriously, what's up with that? I don't go up to random Europeans and talk to them in Polish). Everyday felt like a fight to survive amidst an onslaught of erasure, and I was incredibly conscious that this colonized land was never designed for me; they just issued people like me a citizenship as an afterthought because we either had money from overseas or provided cheaper labour.

But then on a whim, I moved back to Asia a year ago. The adjustment can be so very hard and the culture is immensely different. But that first language? I relearned how to speak it, and it felt like I became reunited with that half of my brain. I am treated as local despite my weird accent and haven't received creepy exoticizing hit ons at all. The models in the billboards and advertisements don't look like me--but they look so much closer to who I am, and if I ever decide to buy their products, they'll have my skin tone. I can't describe enough how much of a relief this experience has been, and how all these little things make me feel more whole. I don't fear being erased anymore.

Crazy long anecdata aside, I just wonder if your parents feel similarly, which is why they cling on so tightly to everything Iranian. Perhaps you could look at them with more compassion. Maybe when you hear their grief and pain, the annoying things they do wouldn't be as annoying.
posted by Hawk V at 10:29 AM on August 16, 2014

Best answer: They are speaking partly out of stress and longing and so are you and the intensity/anxiety of the interaction just ramps up.

I think parents often want their children's affirmation and acceptance just as much as kids want that from their parents, but especially from a more authoritarian tradition it can be nearly impossible to seek in any straightforward, vulnerable way.

I think, when your parents start going on about Iran, try to listen for the subtext. It could vary. 'I feel alone' 'I feel worried' 'I feel inadequate at passing on my parents' heritage' 'I feel my children reject a core part of me' etc. Then try to respond to that. Express your respect for them, and their parents. Ask questions that show that you are interested in their experience and value their knowledge. Find things about your Iranian heritage to learn more about.

(I think that variations of this push and pull are pretty common for generations of immigrant families. Even if you are not interested in their/your Iranian heritage now, there's a good chance the generation after you will be. And besides, it's not just about Iran. It's about your parents' childhoods and formative experiences. I hope they are around for you to ask questions of until they're 120, but as someone who lost parents young, I highly highly doubt you will ever regret putting in some time to learn more about their early lives).

As a plus: if responding this way brings their anxiety levels around this down, they'll be more likely to have the bandwidth to positively focus on you and to share your interests, and if not, hopefully you'll have more info to be able to direct Iran-related conversations in directions you're more interested in or comfortable with.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:55 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

>What I wanted to and did not say was "I don't really care about what Iran does, because I'm not Iranian and I'm tired of this subject."

Late to the party here and can't exactly identify, but I wonder if you could remove a lot of resentment by just being honest. Maybe it's not that they talk about Iran so much but that you feel like you have to pretend and self-censor and you resent it. What if you just said "I love you guys and I know how important Iran is to you, but to be honest, I'm just not that interested in it. I grew up in America and this is my home." It would cause a lot of hopefully short-term strain (and again, I stress I have no personal experience with immigration) but maybe it would relieve the problem in the long run.
posted by callmejay at 1:14 PM on August 19, 2014

Everyone: 'grin and bear it, then deflect' seems to be the only practical advice in this situation. It helps to know that I'm not the only one with this issue and I appreciate hearing about how other people dealt with their similar situation.

Your parents are probably quite unaware of how much they [and their expectations] have changed since they left.

I realise this may not be a practical option in their case, but in my experience going back for a visit can be a very eye-opening experience for someone suffering from 'old-country nostalgia'.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:44 PM on August 19, 2014

I really want to respond to this since I'm in a similar situation - a child of immigrant parents who are obsessed with their culture. I think the issue is part of a bigger problem of parents not being able to understand the experiences and perspective of their immigrant child. I mean, they grew up with 1 culture (as full of turmoil as it might have been), but a child growing up in a foreign country, getting educated in the foreign culture and having friends who are mostly not from the country of origin raises its own dilemmas which the child must solve on his/her/their own. If you have immigrant parents who are not empathetic enough to see your struggle, and who offer no solid guidance to adjust to the new culture, then you feel very vulnerable and on your own (speaking from my experience). I don't blame you for not caring too much about their opinions because it probably feels like a one-way street where they just talk at you and don't listen for your perspective or acknowledge that you are different... Maybe acknowledging yourself is a first step to not caring so much that your parents don't. It's not easy per se, but it's definitely helped me to feel that I am and can validate myself... Good luck!
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