Christian Media: Where Truth Meets You

A young woman and her mom through the years

Bridging the Cultural Gap

Honest (sometimes tough) conversations help a relationship mature, especially between children of immigrants and their parents, like Darlene and Leni.


Bridging the Cultural Gap


[Show open]


Mariel Gutierrez: Hi, everyone. You’re listening to the Faith and Family podcast, a Christian family community that aims to promote Christian values for every phase of your family life. I’m Mariel Gutierrez. Today, we have a mother and daughter on the podcast.


Leni Besa: Hi, I’m Leni Besa. And well, I immigrated from the Philippines to the United States way back; I think it was March of 1980.


Darlene Alejandro: Hi! I’m Darlene Alejandro, and I was born here in the United States.


Mariel: Leni and Darlene have an amazing bond, but with every parent-child relationship, there are ups and downs. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, “Asian American adolescents, specifically Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Filipino youth, report higher levels of culture conflict with parents than other groups of adolescents (Phinney et al. 2000; Rumbaut 1996).” 


Darlene Alejandro: What were your hopes when you left the Philippines? Like, can you tell me about the experience and how you felt when you migrated over to the States? And who did you miss the most just help tell me about your experience moving here?


Leni Besa: As a nurse, [I] gained more experience in nursing, expand my knowledge in another country like America. I wanted more financial stability so that in the future, when I decided to get married, probably, which I did, I will be able to provide security and financial stability in my family. I wasn’t really lonely at the beginning because we were recruited as a group. When I am by myself, then, of course, yeah, I was lonely because I miss my parents, especially my sister, who I grew up with.

Career choice and what it means to be successful

Mariel: Another topic discussed was education. According to an NYU psychology publication, ‘The Model Minority’ stereotype presents Asian Americans as valuing hard work and education, despite studies which report that Asian Americans vary widely in their cultural values and level of academic achievement.


Darlene Alejandro: I specifically remember the day that I was in my junior year of college. 


Leni Besa: Of college, yeah.

Darlene Alejandro: And I remember coming home, and I was like, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do with this. I want to; I want to do aesthetics.”


Leni Besa: Right, right. 


Darlene Alejandro: And I wanted to, it was like, and I did all my research on my own, and I came home. And I remember Kuya (“older brother” in Filipino)  was here, and dad was here. And I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to do skin care. I want to go into aesthetics. And the schooling for that was in like two weeks. So that was so from that, yeah, from the day I decided to drop out of college, go to skincare school; that was like two weeks, and I just dropped it on everyone. And I remember Dad was like, “Oh, just let her do it.” And I remember you said you were. I think you’re the most concerned because I understand; it was such a quick transition. And, like, there’s no certainty in… 


Leni Besa: In aesthetics. 


Darlene Alejandro: In aesthetics. I mean, it’s not the typical, like doctors, lawyers, lawyers, stuff like that. And I remember being frustrated because I knew I wanted to do it; go to beauty school for skin care. And then I remember walking away, and I remember hearing Kuya talk to you like, “As long as she has a plan, it’s okay.”


Leni Besa: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that one correct. Yes. Yeah. Because, you know, like, nurses, when we are talking about, oh, my co-nurse would say, “Oh, yeah, my son is in medicine or so, so. So forth and so forth.” And then I thought about my kids and you, specifically. But then yeah, I remember what your brother was saying, “You don’t know, mom. She can be successful on what she’s doing than you do right now. And, you know, you don’t know that, you know, let her do it.” And so yeah. 


Darlene Alejandro: I think was, yeah, it was… 


Leni Besa: I remember that situation.


Darlene Alejandro: Yes. I think what’s different with our generation is that, well, you became a nurse because, like, financial stability.


Leni Besa: Right. 


Darlene Alejandro: You knew it was going to bring in the money, and it was going to secure you a future…


Leni Besa: Right.

Darlene Alejandro: …where your family would be taken care of. 


Leni Besa: Yeah.


Darlene Alejandro: But here, like growing up American and in the States, there’s those jobs, but there’s also the creative route.


Leni Besa: Like I remember, I didn’t really like to be a nurse, I think. I wasn’t thinking of being a nurse, I think. It’s just my parents wanted [me] to be a nurse.


Darlene Alejandro: And so you became a nurse. 


Leni Besa: So I became a nurse, right.


Darlene Alejandro: And that’s, that’s where I took, and that I understand there’s more uncertainty because it is harder to earn a living going the creative route, but we’re here now.


Leni Besa: And I’m happy, I’m happy, actually. I’m happy [with] the way you have taken your path right now. Because first of all, of course, God has blessed you. I still believe that you know God will not forsake you. My first priority is really you being, you being active members of the Church and in your duties. Because I know God will provide you all the things that you need and you will also be successful in, in [the] later part of your life. And you are successful right now. I am just happy that you are.

Understanding cultural differences

Mariel: Leni and Darlene discussed the topic of tone and how it was often misunderstood in their family dynamic during conversations. Many immigrant parents and American-born children experienced the same disconnect. A study has shown that immigrants and refugee families face challenges to reestablish family roles and patterns in an unfamiliar society with a new language and sociocultural environment.


Leni Besa: In the Philippines, we were not raised to be like our tone cause you guys grew up here. And you’re very confrontational, I guess, or argumentative. And you will speak your own mind. In the Philippines, I was not raised like that. Because I speak loud, and I guess you guys think I’m always mad, but I’m not actually mad. It’s just the tone of voice, I think, is the problem.


Darlene Alejandro: Like you were surrounded by other Filipinos in the Philippines who are all the same way. But then I go; I grew up going to like an American school with all of these different cultures and different kids with different backgrounds. 


Leni Besa: That’s right. 

Darlene Alejandro: So we have or growing up, we had way more perspective and influence just cultural, American cultural influence.


Leni Besa: That’s right. Yeah, cause I remember also when you were a teenager when you were young, your Dad would always get mad at you because of the way you speak. 


Darlene Alejandro: Oh, I know. 


Leni Besa: If you remember that, he would threaten you, “Give me your cell phone. Give me your cell phone.”


Darlene Alejandro: I will always remember that. And I remember there were even specific times where it wouldn’t make sense to me, like where I would think, “Why are you getting mad at me?” 


Leni Besa: Yeah.


Darlene Alejandro: Like, it didn’t make sense to me because sometimes in my head, I’m just like, “I’m just trying to talk.” I mean, ok, granted…


Leni Besa: So now you understand how we are when we say that because that’s how we were raised.


Darlene Alejandro: I understand that I can come off a little bit strong. If I say some things in a certain tone, especially like talking to you and dad and Kuya growing up. But honestly, I think it’s because I got married. I think it’s opened up my eyes to a lot of our relationship. So looking back now, I think where we conflicted in tone, at least for me, is I felt like whenever I would say something, you took it as I’m mad, or I’m confrontational, or I’m disrespectful.


Leni Besa: Yeah.


Darlene Alejandro: But then in my head, whenever I would say what I want, or I would say what I mean, in my head, it would come off as I’m just trying to express exactly what I want. I’m just trying to tell you what I mean. And I think that’s still me today. Like when I do say something or when I yeah, when I’m just having a conversation or when I’m stating something, there’s no guessing. It’s like it’s exactly what I mean. 


Leni Besa: That’s your thing. 


Darlene Alejandro: You don’t have to think about when I say, like, I want to do this. That’s exactly what I mean. I want to do this.


Leni Besa: Yeah, because that’s how you were raised. I mean, you know, that’s how kids are raised here in America. But kids in the Philippines they’re raised differently. I think even now, I think they’re because they, I mean, growing up in America, is different. Like when you…going to school in America and the way you are taught here is different, I think, than the way we were taught in the Philippines.


Mariel: Darlene, now a newlywed, talks with Leni about her realizations as she grows older. In the end, their mother-daughter dynamic continues to evolve. But they’re taking more strides at bridging their cultural gap with one thing, in particular, their faith.

Growing together

Darlene Alejandro: So, you know how I moved away? Well, I just said I think our relationship is way better now, even though we don’t talk every single day. I think it’s healthier now, compared to like when I was growing up here, and we both didn’t understand each other. But now that we’ve had like these few difficult conversations and honest conversations. I think it’s better now. But even so, now that I moved away, how do you feel like we keep up this relationship? Even between, like, just me and you or me and dad, me and the family since I’m away from home? How do you feel that we make sure our relationship is still strong, even though I’m in a different city and we don’t see each other for a few months?


Leni Besa: Well, I will continue to be a parent to you. Regardless of whether you are, you know, even though you are married already. I would still continue to be a parent to you, still reminding you so and forth, just like what you said, you know, how I’m still telling you to pray.


Darlene Alejandro: And now that I’m married, he gets the reminders too.


Leni Besa: Yeah, as I have said, parenting doesn’t stop. I mean, you know, it will go forever. Even though you have already your kids and you will do the same thing to your kids. And that’s how it is. Just always be there, you know, for you, and always reminding you, and understanding each other, and respecting you as being a married person now. You will have your own family, you will build your own values to your family, to your kids. But still, I will be there to guide you, to guide you, but not to impose what mine is; how I raised you. It’s up to your decision how you would raise your family, but on my part, it will be a guidance.


Darlene Alejandro: You know, that makes me, that makes me think about and then makes me look forward to when I do have my own kids. And I think that’s where we’re going to have more of these conversations because I’m not going to understand.


Leni Besa: Yeah, my prayer for you is you stay strong in your faith and bring up your, raise your family also to be strong in the faith. My prayer for you is to have a successful marriage. So communication between you and your husband is important. You may have ups and downs in your marriage but always pray. Don’t go to sleep without patching up. My prayer for you is to have beautiful children raised in a Christian way.


Darlene Alejandro: I’m the one who moved away, and I’m the one who lives the farthest. I always pray that our family is always connected, wherever we are. And we’re always united. And I always pray that our relationship as a family gets stronger. 


I actually, I don’t think I ever told you this, but at one point when I was growing up, and I started realizing that my relationship with my family is not that strong, I actually had my own devotional prayer. Like, “Dear God, please. Like, please help me to open up to my parents and please help us to have a better relationship. Like, please help me to be aware of the moments that you give us. So I can grow closer to them.” So I, especially now that I’ve moved away, I always pray that our relationship as a family always gets stronger. And I always pray that yeah, it’s mostly that, I always pray that our relationship as a family gets stronger and that we’re always content. 


Mom, I am proud of you because of your confidence. Really, of your confidence. And the way that you did move to America on your own, you did go for that future that helped me and Kuya. And I’m actually proud of you just for being here in this conversation with me. And I’m proud that you, I’m proud that you and I have reached this point where you and I can both listen to each other and understand and accept, like coming from… 


Leni Besa: Different culture.


Darlene Alejandro: Like me growing up in America and being here talking to you about all of the differences throughout my life. Throughout my life and my relationship with you, I’m proud that you, I’m proud that you have accepted, and that you’re willing to listen to everything I have felt about, like, my skin, how I feel about myself. I’m proud that you are willing to listen and strengthen our relationship as mother and daughter. Because, like you mentioned earlier, I mean, it’s better now than when I was growing up. So I’m proud of you since it was also mentioned earlier that Filipinos don’t really express themselves. I’m proud that you have gotten to that point now. It can always get better, we’re still getting better, but I’m proud that, I’m proud we’re here now.


Leni Besa: Ok, what should I say? I am proud of you; what you have become today. And I have been proud of you, actually, not only today. I have been proud of you [for] growing up to be independent. Very independent.


Darlene Alejandro: I feel like this is a thing, at least now. Like, like it’s a thing in the world to have difficult conversations and to have honest conversations. Because that’s how you grow, that’s how you like, expand. That’s how you understand. But I think, like everything we talked about now, at least for Filipinos, you don’t talk about this stuff.


Leni Besa: No, no. Just like what I said, you know, we never had this chance when you were growing up. Just like what I said, you know, I was busy with work. You have a different kind of whatever you have.


Darlene Alejandro: Or, like, we did have the chance, but it’s like, “How do I talk to my mom because she always thinks I’m mad?” And then you are like, “How do I get her to understand because she always thinks I’m mad?” That’s the last of it; that’s where it all ended.


Leni Besa: Yeah, it all ended there. And we understood each other. 


Mariel: I’m Mariel Gutierrez. Thanks for listening to the Faith and Family podcast. Don’t forget to like and subscribe and follow INCMedianews on Instagram for the latest on