Conflicts with parents over dating relationships and major decisions might seem commonplace for sons and daughters of any race.
But for Asian-American students, those problems can be compounded by cultural differences with their parents.
The Asian-American Student Union held its spring conference last week, which included discussions on family issues and culminated with an evening performance by Asian-American student groups and entertainers.
It took some time before architecture sophomore Joe Her’s parents could accept he was not going into medicine or business, Her said.
“Your family expects so much of you, but you have to respect yourself and do what you want to do,” he said. “At the same time, you don’t want to disappoint your family.”
Her said his brother is a better artist than him, and at first, his parents were skeptical about whether he could succeed in the field. After his skills began improving, and his parents could see he could make it in architecture, they were able to support his decision, he said.
Simply figuring out what he wanted to do required moving away from his family for a year, Her said.
“I got to see how it is to actually be myself and not always be what your family expects of you,” Her said.
Many of the conference discussions focused on family issues, because family tends to be very important to Asians, said Albert Vang, a psychology senior who organized the sessions.
Often, obligation to family and personal autonomy can come into conflict with one another, psychology professor Richard Lee said.
“You have to deal with the fact that you and your parents are sort of living in different cultural worlds,” Lee said.
Those differing social norms can lead to conflicts over many issues, including dating.
“My mom would always say when I had a non-Asian girlfriend ‘Just friends, right?’ ” Lee said. “When she says that she really means ‘This is not someone you’re going to marry. This is not someone you’re going to get pregnant. This is not someone you’re going to bring into their family.’ “
For parents, prohibiting interracial dating can be a means to try to preserve their heritage or to make sure they will remain involved in their child’s life, Lee said.
“The hardship really for children is that when you’re confronted with these types of conflicts, there’s a tendency to start living the secret life,” Lee said.
Although sophomore Linh Nguyen said that in the past her parents said they would prefer her to date a Vietnamese who is Catholic, they have been accepting of her relationship with Evan Veire, who is white.
At first, Nguyen said, she was hesitant that cultural differences and the fact she has mostly Asian-American friends might make it difficult to date Veire, but now she enjoys their differences.
“It was refreshing to talk to someone who did a lot of things that I had never experienced,” Nguyen said. “It makes it fun.”
The two have been dating for about one month, but if the relationship becomes more serious, Nguyen said, their differences could create problems.
For example, deciding what languages to teach her children or living in Vietnam might be more difficult if she has a non-Vietnamese husband, Nguyen said.
Veire, a biology senior, said an interracial marriage might limit the options for where he would live in the future as well. For example, it would be unlikely he would move to a small town where people might not be as accepting, he said.
At least one member of Veire’s family is extremely supportive of his relationship, he said. Veire said his uncle, who is Chinese-American, would be happy to bring someone else of Asian descent into the family.