Not your typical Grandma!

Courtesy of Caroline Jones (Flickr)

Courtesy of Caroline Jones (Flickr)

I never had the stereotypical American grandparent-grandchild relationship. I did not have the Grandpa who would take me out to a ball game or the Grandma who would sit me on her lap and tell me her life stories. My Grandma, my only grandparent I have ever known, and I have a unique experience because she is a foreigner.

My grandmother arrived from Iran in 1980s after all her five children immigrated to California without their parents. She faced many challenges assimilating into American culture, including her most pronounced difficulty, learning the English language. Her English has never been perfect and it is fragmented, choppy, and pensive, but I love it. She has taught me seemingly random phrases in Persian, yet those words and sentences are vital to our communication. Her English is poor because she lives in an ethnoburb and, therefore has no reason for her to develop English-speaking skills. My Grandmother’s community consists of Persian grocery markets, restaurants, and retail stores, with at least one Iranian on every block in her residential neighborhood. She assimilated to her neighborhood, but not into the dominant American culture.

She has not assimilated to the USA because she cannot read, write, and speak English fluently. On birthdays or life-milestones, she shakily etches out her congratulations and love into cards. My Grandma struggles to talk to me and we often encounter awkward silences, in which neither of us knows how or what to say. Instead of talking, we usually play backgammon. All of my family members know how to play. Backgammon has created subculture in my family that consists of competitions after dinner, while drinking rich reddish-black chai tea. As kids, we learn how to play as soon as we can add, starting with a “kid’s version” before progressing to the real game. We engage with one another exchanging distress, frustration, happiness, and victory in English and Persian. We have grown accustom to my Grandmother’s lifestyle just as much as she has altered herself to fit in with us.

In the end, I am glad I don’t have those Grandparents who can relate to my life in America. It gives me perspectives I would have never encountered otherwise. My Grandma has taught me humility, respect, and how to express love without saying a word. My immigrant grandma taught me one of the most American ideas of all: actions speak louder than words.

12 responses to “Not your typical Grandma!

  1. I also have grandparents who have not really assimilated to the American culture. I can relate to you because I too, am very proud of them and I love the cultural aspects they bring into my life.

  2. I love the topic you chose for this article! The fact that your grandmother has introduced new perspectives into your life is extremely heartwarming. If you don’t mind me asking what year did your grandmothers children immigrate to America? How long did they go without their mom in the same country?

  3. I can relate to you in the sense that my grandparents don’t speak English, in fact they still live in Mexico. Going back to visit them really does give me a different perspective on life and I have learned to appreciate what I have in America. Grandparents can bring out the best in grandchildren and are the best and vital link to your culture. Long Live Grandparents!

  4. I really like the topic you wrote about in this article and can definitely relate. Having both immigrant grandparents and parents, they have always had to make extra steps to relate to me and I have had to do the same for them. I’m also glad my family members have not been fully “Americanized” because it allows for me to hold on to what I can of my Korean roots.

  5. I really like the topic of the article! I can relate not through my grandparents, but my parents! I am also glad they are not fully “Americanized” because it allows me to connect to my Mexican heritage even though I have assimilated to American culture!

  6. Thanks for sharing your personal story! I really like how you mentioned that your grandmother assimilated into her ethnoburb, not into mainstream America. It made me start thinking about what it means to assimilate in the United States when one lives in ethnoburbs or ethnic enclaves. Nonetheless, the idea of assimilation (and who can assimilate) is still a gray area to me at least.

  7. This is a great realistic application of what we have learned in class. It is interesting that your grandparents are transnationals and you can still communicate with them well.

  8. I too have a grandmother that teaches me about the cultures and traditions of her home country instead of participating in “American” activities with me, and for that I am extremely grateful. I think it is important for children to have these types of cultural influences in their lives in order to be more open minded and accepting of different cultures.

  9. Wow! I am glad that you can still communicate with your grandmother and I envy your relationship with her. As a 1.5 generation immigrant, I had the pleasure of knowing my grandmother for the first 8 years of my life. But after immigrating into America and assimilating more into the “mainstream” culture, I slowly began struggling speaking in my native language, Tagalog. So now, I rarely ever have any interactions with my grandmother and it gets a bit awkward when I talk to her on the phone because of the language barrier.

  10. This is a great article! Although I personally cannot connect to the topic of the article, the growth that you experienced and the connection you have with your grandmother is something that I admire. Just reading your story has stimulated thinking about the assimilation process across generations. Again, thanks for sharing your personal story.

  11. Wow. I also feel the same with my grandparents. Despite “language barrier” (not being too fluent in my parents’ heritage language) the “actions speak louder than words” does hold true. Yea I got flak for not having “deep conversations” with them, but I found that even the little things or just being by their side is just as meaningful and special.

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