5 Asian and Pacific Islander Americans Reflect on Their Families’ Legacies

asian and pacific islander families

Raise your hand if your parents love sharing the most embarrassing stories about you. Hard same. Whether it’s the time I woke up in the middle of the night and accidentally threw up on one of my best friends or how my ears used to be (or might still be) too big for my head, the teasing is relentless.

Joking aside, there are moments when my mom and dad share stories from the past that I actually want them to tell again and again. With May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we figured there was no better time to share incredible tales of immigration, cultural traditions, and more from families around the country. Regardless of your background, each life experience below will make you appreciate your loved ones more deeply and help you see how much they guide and protect you.

So many superstitions.


Parents: Gino and Vernie Briones

Child: Isis Briones

My parents always had the strangest explanations for everything, because Filipinos are some of the most superstitious people you’ll ever meet. Sometimes, my parents would use superstitions to explain why they were making a certain decision or disciplining my brother and me, but their stories often seemed suspect. For instance, putting my purse on the floor will apparently make me poor in the future. At the same time, my mom was a germaphobe and hated anything touching the ground. She would also say that watching television at night makes people go blind (in that case, though, she might have been right—I was wearing eyeglasses by the second grade).

My mom may have been spot on about avoiding late-night programs, but that’s often not the case. Most of the time, her and my dad’s superstitions aren’t based on fact. They also spend a good amount of time trying to predict people’s deaths. (Yes, you read that right.) The night before my 18th birthday, my mom pulled me aside and pointed out that I was all grown up. Then, she started staring at my toes. When I asked her why she was doing that, she casually replied, “Since your second toe is bigger than your big one, I’m going to die before you.” Another time, my dad was taking a photo of me and my two best friends. As soon as he hit the button, he calmly warned one of my besties that among the three of us, she was going to die first because she was in the middle of our picture.

Fortunately, not every superstition is about death. My mom has never missed the chance to cook me the popular Filipino noodle dish called pancit. It’s known in our culture to bring the celebrant good luck and a long life. When I have kids, I think that might be the one superstition I’ll pass on to them.

Life was harder back then.


Parent: Bong Ha

Child: Amy Ha

“I escaped from Vietnam and built a life for myself at the age of 16,” Vietnamese immigrant Bong Ha shared with HelloGiggles. Even though it was difficult to leave her beloved country behind, she now runs her own successful nail salon and couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. Whenever her two daughters are complaining, Ha likes to remind them of her former struggles, which she hopes encourages them to power through and stay positive. “I did so much to make sure we have a good life,” she said. “I also do what I can to ensure they have everything they need to succeed and more.”

Make sure you get along with everyone.


Parent: Gilgaya Palma

Child: Joshua Palma

The Golden Rule is a concept that plenty of parents want their children to learn, but this Southeast Asian mom had a unique way of emphasizing it to her son. “A few years ago, my mom had a friend who booked an emergency trip to the Philippines,” Filipino American Joshua Palma told HG. His mom’s female friend was having extreme stomach pains, and she trusted only her witch doctor in the Philippines to fix the problem. (ICYMI, Filipinos are very superstitious.) When the friend arrived to the remote village where her medicine woman lived, she was asked if she’d recently wronged anyone. Quickly, she confessed that she’d started a fight with a colleague at work, and then was told to gulp down a special drink. As soon as his mom’s friend finished, she allegedly spit out a coin and her symptoms were gone. Whether you believe this tale or not, the moral of the story is to treat others the way you want to be treated—or bad things will happen.

Keep your faith in the face of oppression.


Parent: Ruel Rodriguez

Children: Hannah and Jannae Rodriguez

To make ends meet, one Filipino American husband recalled the time he took a computer programming job in Saudi Arabia while the rest of his family was still living in the Philippines. Despite being able to save up for his daughters’ future, he sacrificed being able to freely practice his Christian religion. “I went to jail multiple times during my time in Saudi,” Ruel Rodriguez disclosed to us. He was eventually released and now continues to tell this story as a pastor at his local church. He loves retelling it to others in the hopes of instilling the importance of having faith in the face of oppression.

Food is life and love.


Parent: Margaret Pobre

Child: Danielle Pobre

Have you ever been to a party hosted by Asians or Pacific Islanders without food? Never. That’s because flavor isn’t the only thing you’ll find in these countries’ dishes. Like in the beloved movie Crazy Rich Asians, cooking and making sure a family member has eaten are the main ways of letting them know you love them. “Nick’s and Rachel’s mothers show love through food, prescribing herbal soup for tiredness and ginseng tea for heartbreak,” Inocencio Smith wrote in The Atlantic. “In the scene when the Youngs are making dumplings together, we get to see a softer, more down-to-earth side of the family and the teamwork that brings them together.”

For Chinese American Danielle Pobre, learning her mother’s recipes was how the two cultivated a relationship. “I couldn’t wait to get home and see what my mom made for dinner,” she reminisced to HelloGiggles. “She may live halfway across the country, but we continue to exchange tips for the kitchen and I always think of our family any time I make her delicious meals.”

Filed Under