Although I was born in America, my first years of life were spent being fully immersed in my native culture. I only spoke Assyrian, ate Assyrian food, listened to Assyrian music and went to “Assyrian school” (a.k.a. Bible Study on Fridays with language lessons after). I couldn’t even speak English until I started pre-school. I grew up with very strict Assyrian parents who tried to enforce all of their beliefs and ideology upon me, but being born in America meant that I was being shared by two cultures. As a result, growing up as an Assyrian-American was quite a struggle.
There were certain things that I couldn’t do, which seemed ridiculous to me since all of my friends were doing them. I was never allowed to have sleepovers at my friends’ houses, eat certain food, go out whenever I wanted or watch certain films/TV shows. (Fun fact: I wasn’t even allowed to watch Spongebob until I was 10). And yet, when I questioned my mother’s decisions, she would either respond with, “Because I said so,” or the occasional, “I don’t care what they do. They are not us. We are different, and we have different rules.”
Besides being excessive helicopter parents, Assyrians are also very religious people, so of course I was practically raised in a church. That also meant that I was expected to remain “pure” until marriage. That’s why when it came to dating, it seemed like there was some unspoken rule that we all (my sisters and I) seemed to follow—never let mom and dad find out.
American culture makes dating seem like some casual thing that every teenager experiences at some point, but for my parents, it was the end of the world. According to them, good daughters don’t do “anything” until they are married. Of course, we all know what happens when you tell a child they can’t do something—they do exactly that.
One of my younger sisters eventually started dating someone in high school, and when my mom found out, a war broke out. I couldn’t understand why she was so angry and upset with my sister for having feelings for another person, which is completely normal. In my mother’s eyes, it was one of the worst things that could happen. That’s why I just stayed away from dating for most of my life.
My parents also expected me to be “perfect” in general. They expected me to get perfect grades, get into the top school, get a “respectable” profession (i.e. a doctor, lawyer, or engineer), have a perfect body, marry the perfect man and basically never do anything wrong in their eyes. This type of pressure can make someone feel like they’re not good enough, and I have been a victim to that way too many times.
Despite my strict upbringing, living in America has softened their rigidity ever so slightly; they have become a little more accepting of different views and ideas. Going to school in LA and being exposed to all these different people, places and experiences has made me realize that I can do whatever makes me happy, and not just my parents. I may be Assyrian, but I am also American, and I will embrace both of these cultures equally for all that they can offer.