Event focuses on immigrant family life

Katrina Tollin

As a child of Cambodian refugees, Kappa Phi Lambda sorority member Cindy Tan experienced a childhood different from many of her peers at UT.

With parents unaccustomed to American life, she was kept at home instead of being allowed to socialize with her friends when she was young and admits now she can be less social as a result of her strict upbringing.

Tan shared her story at “I am an Immigrant,” an event hosted by Asian sorority Kappa Phi Lambda. The event invited other first-generation American students to discuss the cultural barriers they face with their parents.

“They had their ways of growing up when they were in Cambodia, and it was very different then, especially what they went through — escaping genocide,” said Tan, a junior in the College of Natural Sciences. “Even now, there are still cultural and communication barriers between me and my parents.”

Participants discussed how they try to bridge the cultural gap between themselves and their families.

“For minorities, most of our parents are from a different country, and as first-generation Americans there is a culture gap because we grew up in American culture, whereas our parents grew up in a different one,” said dance and radio-television-film senior Shirley Luong, the cultural chair of Kappa Phi Lambda and organizer of the event.

Topics included to what extent students use their native language to communicate with their parents, and if they are concerned about one day being able to pass on their culture.

“Growing up all I spoke was Spanish,” said advertising junior José Mata. “Now my mom knows English, but my dad doesn’t really, and I find myself when I talk to them forgetting my Spanish, and it’s scary.”

Student ethnicities represented included Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Filipino.

In addition to members of Kappa Phi Lambda, the 32 participants at the discussion included members of Sigma Phi Omega, another Asian sorority; Sigma Lambda Beta, a Hispanic fraternity; and Omega Phi Gamma, an Asian fraternity.

“I’m sure there are plenty of other people that feel the same way that we did as a kid, and it’s just nice to be able to talk about it and be open about it,” said Lisa Doan, a corporate communication senior and the community service chair of Kappa Phi Lambda. “It gives us the opportunity to feel like we’re not alone in this situation.”