Monday, July 10, 2017

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Thi Bui's memoir hit close to home on many levels for me. Books like hers hold a special place for me for some obvious reasons, but the biggest is that it's a story of immigration told through a comic book. I constantly keep an eye out for books like these and immediately pick them one when I learn about them to read them for myself. At face value, Bui shares her families story of coming to the United States from Vietnam and that alone is an amazing story. She weaves historical moments in-between her families experiences growing up, having kids, trying to raise kids, and eventually having to leave their home country. I don't wanna get into details because I don't wanna spoil it for you when you read it, but what she shares reminded me of my own experiences of growing up as an immigrant but also the complex and toxic relationship I've had with my own parents. Her use of water colors and her personal style give a kind of painful beauty to some of the emotionally intense moments in her story. It can be a lot to take in at times, but it keeps you enthralled to continue reading and learning more about Bui's life and her family.

Once I finished reading her book, it took me a few days to process everything that was drudged up in relation to my own immigrant experience and the toxic relationship I have with my parents. Like Bui, I myself have gone down that path of trying to better understand my parents as individuals, as human beings. Through age, developing emotional maturity, and piecing together their lives like a scattered jigsaw puzzle, I came to a place of understanding, both of them and for me. I've spent years trying to better understand how things happened and why they happened when I was growing up. For the longest time, I just took it as face value because they could never explain the why of whatever was going on at the time. Instead, it came from a place of you're a kid, you don't understand anything because you waste your time watching cartoons and playing video games. Least that's how it came across for me back then. Again, time and maturity have helped me process and make sense of a lot of things with no real closure. The more I analyzed my parents and what they experienced growing up, it was clear that they themselves were denied emotional support from their families, so how could they convey something they never got to their kids?

Once I came to this understanding, my own relationship with them started falling into place. In the beginning, all I felt was frustration and extreme anger. I would get all existential to the point that I would question why they even had me in the first place and what cosmic joke was being played on me for having to experience this. I would reflect here and there on instances from my childhood and break down what happened to try to find a way to place all the blame on them so I could have myself a pity party. Over the years, I made it a point to distance myself from my family for a lot of different reasons, but at the core of that was trying to leave behind what I picked up from them. I looked to others for the support I longed for from my family and at times I also formed my own chosen family of friends. Through them, I learned to let go of a lot of things and continued to grow because of their support and understanding. Still, dealing with trauma is exhausting and the growth I make is in small steps, but steps that are moving me forward.

Through all this processing and understanding, I've created some peace for myself in order to continue growing as an individual. In choosing to stay away from my family, I've had to put up with societal norms that can be annoying as a mosquito bite or as painful as a burn. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that wants to talk to my parents and work everything out to a point of closure but the damage done is too deep for me to want to do that with them. Which is not to say that I don't care about them, come on, they're my parents. For all their toxicity and best intentions, I'm here doing work and thriving just like they wanted me to when they would tell me to do good in school so I wouldn't have to spend the rest of my life making a living like they did. For sure, these feelings are going to keep getting more complex as time passes and maybe I'll do something about them then, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Like Bui's parents, mine were just trying to do the best that they could.