Getting Woke With Mom

by Sierra Fang-Horvath
Also Featured on KQED
02.08.18

My mom came to the U.S. from Taiwan when she was seven. As an immigrant in the ’70s, she faced racism daily. I cringe when I hear her stories about kids on the playground calling her “chink,” squinting their eyes, and mocking her accent.

So it’s puzzling to me now, when she makes highly questionable statements about other groups. We were talking about an ISIS terrorist attack. My mom shook her head and said, “Islam is a violent religion.” I confronted her, “It’s not okay to generalize an entire group based off of an extremist minority.”

We also fight over gender pronouns. I have a non-binary friend whose pronouns are “they/them,” but my mom keeps saying “she/her.” Whenever I ask her to try to use the correct pronouns, she complains that “they/them” is confusing.

We go back and forth. “So you think clarity is more important than respect?”

To her, I’m too politically correct. To me, she’s disrespectful.

Sometimes I walk away with tears of frustration running down my face. How can someone I love so much think like that?

The problem with my mom isn’t hate; it’s lack of awareness. She was raised in a different generation and with a different culture. Her very traditional Chinese household didn’t exactly support different points of view.

But for me? I’ve grown up in a woke world. And some things that feel natural to me, will take her longer to catch on to.

Sometimes in public I still hiss at her, “Mom. You can’t say that. Not here, not ever.” But in the end, I need to be patient while she grows. And I know it’s not easy to let go of outdated beliefs that were ingrained in her as a child. But I see her trying. And to me, that makes a world of difference.

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