What we don’t say

Following in his parents’ footsteps, Vincent Ho has never felt comfortable opening up. Photo: Supplied

“We don’t have to be the by-products of our past… doing exactly the same thing.”

Have you eaten? How are your grades? Did you drink enough water today? That’s how my family shows they care. ‘I love you’ isn’t in our vocabulary.

These indirect displays of affection are common in Asian families. It’s our normal.

So, for many Asian families who migrate to a western country, there’s a disconnect.

In public, it’s hugs and kisses. At home, it’s silence.

“I just don’t feel I can easily share with my siblings… or anyone,” my dad Vincent Ho says.

My grandma is a Chinese-Malaysian migrant, and was my primary carer when I was young. Photos: Supplied

My family members’ hard working ‘migrant mentality’ coupled with an inability to express their emotions means they often suffer alone.

Uprooting your entire life to live in a foreign country where the language and culture are so drastically different to your own can be difficult.

What makes it even harder is not having anyone to share those difficulties with. Not even the people in your own home.

The Chung Wah Community and Aged Care centre provides ways for the elderly to stay active. Photos: Cason Ho.

Asian migrants from all walks of life attend a local aged care centre which primarily provides services to non-English speakers. I spoke with three of them when I visited.

Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore. Three different countries of origin. All three, widows.

With their children busy raising their own families, and their partners no longer around, they find solace and a sense of community in their routine visits.

But not everyone finds a new community after leaving everything behind.

Poh Gan settled in Australia after first arriving as an international student. Photo: Cason Ho

Poh Gan works in Perth as an educational and developmental psychologist, and has an interest in exploring child-parent relationships and major life transitions.

An Asian migrant herself, she says adjusting to new cultures can put a strain on relationships between generations.

“It can pose a lot of challenges within themselves and their identity,” she says.

Clashing cultures and a tendency to suppress emotions have resulted in poorer mental health among Asian-Australians, especially when considering loneliness as an indicator of their psychological well-being.

Ms Gan says the fear of opening up can pass from one generation to the next. Photos: Supplied

“A lot of them think they should passively accept ‘this is just how I am, and my feelings are not okay’,” Ms Gan says.

“We all have a choice to start acting differently despite the cultural influences, and despite the intergenerational trauma.”

She says talking might help. So, I did.