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.