By: Anonymous

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My parents and I never hug. We don’t show physical affection, and verbal affection is a rarity as well. Through their actions, I know my parents love me and care about me, but we simply don’t show it physically, ever.

By the time I started college, I’m pretty sure my parents understood that hugging was a normal American thing that families did. But being from southern India, my parents weren’t going to change their ways within their own family, so the no-hugging practice continued. (And I was fully compliant with the no-hugging rule. I don’t think I could’ve handled my parents trying to hug me all of a sudden – it would’ve been too weird!) However, if one of their American friends tried to hug them, they would happily return the hug, albeit a bit awkwardly.

The most lingering memory I have when it comes to hugging my parents is from September 12, 2001. The previous day, I had escaped from Tower 1 of the World Trade Center ten minutes before it collapsed. It was the three-month anniversary of my first job out of college. It was also the most terrifying, surreal, sickening, and life-changing day of my life. With the help of strangers, I made it back to my apartment on the Upper East Side. No one was allowed in or out of Manhattan, so there was no way for my parents (who were living in eastern Pennsylvania) to reach me. Finally, that night, the city opened up the Long Island Railroad. My roommate and I got on the first train out of the city and took it to her parents’ house in Long Island. We stayed the night there (although I couldn’t sleep from the shock of the day), and the next morning my parents circumvented the island of Manhattan to drive into Long Island and bring me home.

Needless to say, the entire experience was not only traumatic for me, but for my parents as well. They couldn’t get a hold of me until an hour after Tower 1 collapsed, thus fearing the worst – that I was dead. Once they heard my voice on the other end of the phone line, I could hear the utter elation in their voices – their baby was still alive.

When they arrived at my roommate’s parents’ house, they were smiling, so relieved to see me. But neither of them hugged me. And I didn’t hug them either. It wasn’t natural for us to hug, but at the same time, it seemed unnatural not to, especially after such a harrowing event like September 11th. Then a strange thing happened – my mom was so grateful and happy that she spontaneously hugged my roommate to thank her for bringing me to her house. It felt so strange to see my mom hugging my roommate and not me. But I don’t blame her at all – she was just so happy that I was alive and safe that she
didn’t know what to do with herself. Luckily, my roommate was Chinese-American, so she didn’t seem perturbed by my parents’ odd social behavior.

The non-hugging ways of my family passed onto my sisters and me as well (I have an older sister and a younger sister). Although we are completely westernized South Asian Americans who hug our coworkers, friends, boyfriends, and husbands on a regular basis, we never hug each other. I even hug my brother-in-law, but not my older sister – she
always manages to walk away or busy herself with something while I give my brother-in-law a hug. (She’s just trying to make the whole absurd situation seem more natural.) We’re all aware of how bizarre it is not to hug each other, but we have an unspoken rule not to talk about it. It’s just the way it is.

My little sister, on the other hand, has been making some headway in the hugging department. One day when she and I were leaving my parents’ house after a visit, we were saying goodbye, and my mom, standing next to my little sister, said “hugamma,” which translates to “hug amma” or “hug mommy”. My mom and little sister gave each other a super awkward sideways hug mixed with some back-patting. They were both laughing and smiling. I, on the other hand, was surprised and somewhat hurt that my little sister and my mom had their own special hug. It made sense though – my little sister was always the most extroverted and bubbly among the three of us, and her personality combined with my mom’s growing knowledge of western culture (being open and talking to your kids, praising them, showing them physical affection and encouragement), allowed their hugging barrier to be broken. As for me, this new show of physical affection was too overwhelming, so I smiled and turned towards the door as if nothing unusual had happened.

My little sister has given me hope that maybe someday soon my sisters and I can break the hugging barrier. I’m sure all three of us would like to greet each other the same way we greet our friends and other loved ones – with hugs.

At The Laundromat is a supportive online community that exists to challenge the taboo of talking. We welcome you to air your dirty laundry – your past, your emotions, your fears, and your questions – in a safe space. ATL is also an online extension of Vanessa A. Yee’s documentary featuring young Asian Americans breaking the silence that takes hold of their lives and their families. So speak. Write. We’ll listen.

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