Navigating conversations when you're a first generation* in the family can be tricky as it comes with little to no instructions and you’re navigating relationships and culture in a different capacity. Out of respect, you want to honor your family and their cultural upbringing. At the same time, as a first gen, you are still a product of your current society and norms. There can be a clash between cultures due to the change in upbringing and new experiences navigating a new country. The focus for families who have migrated to America is often to leave the past behind, live the “American Dream”, and focus on creating a better future for their children and future generations. A lot of our day-to-day conversations don’t involve learning about your family history or navigating life after your loved ones have passed on. Here are four tips I have learned along the way to better navigate tough conversations about my family history.
*The term "first generation" or "first gen" refers to being the first of a generation to become a citizen in a new country.
You may be looking at this and thinking, “really?” Yes. If you come from a first-generation background then you know that our families work long, hard hours to make ends meet. In different countries, relaxing is a luxury that many can’t afford. If you’re unsure if your family member is up for the task, make a mental observation of their mood and body language. I typically start off with small talk, ask them how they are, and find out if they have tasks planned for the day ahead. If you notice they’re lounging around or watching tv shows, that may be a good opportunity to chat.
It may be hard for your family member to share their journey because it may be tied to a lot of emotions. Try to frame the conversation around positivity. Capturing and preserving these stories - our family history - will ensure they live on and their sacrifices are remembered through future generations. Their participation is a gift to you.
Even though it can be frustrating, sometimes it takes more than one conversation to get to the heart of your history. It’s important to give your family member grace and let them know its okay to take breaks and come back to a topic another day. Think about what you’re asking of them, how different their experiences were than yours, and lead with kindness. The resources that you have today to express your emotions, such as therapy, may not have ever been available to them. Your conversation may be hard, but it can also be healing.
Tough conversations can get emotional, but it’s important to emphasize the purpose of the conversation. You are seeking to learn, to understand, and to carry forward the stories of the past. You and your family want to hear about this person’s experiences. The end of life isn’t something we can control, but we can control how we prepare and handle it. Leaving your family with something to remember you by, your legacy, isn’t just for you, it’s for those who come next. And it matters.
The Remento app is a great resource to activate conversations around family history and personal stories. In my experience, the Remento app acted as a middleman and a guide to talk about the hard stuff without the pressure of coming up with questions or figuring out where to start. I felt at ease navigating the app because it allowed me to pick and customize prompts for anyone, from questions to family photos. Remento meets you where you’re at to create and share your family story.
About Dayana Preval
Dayana Preval is a writer who is passionate about storytelling. She loves to write about topics such as mental health, lifestyle, career, and more. Dayana uses her gifts as a creative to be an asset to her community, inform, and be resourceful to others.