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I Always Wondered Why My Parents Never Said 'We're Proud Of You'

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Brian Vinh Tien Trinh

born and raised

brian trinh children of immigrant parents

My childhood was defined by my achievements.

Shortly before turning 11, I made class valedictorian.

By the time I hit middle school, I was bringing home more As than a family-sized box of Alphabet cereal.

I graduated with honours throughout high school. I threw down a repeat performance during university between scoring scholarships and awards.

I was clueless when it came to drugs. I made curfew like my life depended on it. I respected my elders. By society's standards, I was a well-behaved kid.

So how come I've never heard my parents say, "Son, we're proud of you"?

It's a question I'm not alone in asking. Google autocomplete has it up there, right along with "why don't Asian parents say I love you" and "why don't Asian parents allow sleepovers" -- don't get me started on either.

asian parents
Yeah, consulting Siri wasn't very helpful either.

It's a question that's given life to forums and subreddits like Asian Parent Stories.

It's even a topic Hollywood's tried to address, like in Aziz Ansari's Master of None, which phrased it best during a conversation between characters Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Brian (Kelvin Yu):

Brian: I have, I have never, ever heard my dad say the word "proud." It's always like, "That's it? So that's all you've done?" Like, if I went to the moon, he would honestly be like, "When are you going to Mars?"

Dev: Yeah. "Oh, Brian, you went to the moon? That's like graduating from community college. When are you gonna graduate from Harvard, a.k.a. go to Pluto?"

Brian: I just feel like Asian parents, they don't have the emotional reach to say they're proud or whatever. Have you ever hung out with a white person's parents, though? They are crazy nice. Yeah. I had dinner once with my last girlfriend's mom, and by the end of that meal, she had hugged me more times than my family has hugged me in my entire life.

It sounds like Aziz and company are onto something.

In an interview with Daily Life, Peking University sociologist Xia Xueluan told the publication Asian parents (in this case, Chinese), "are not good at expressing positive emotions" and "are used to educating children with negative language."

My parents aren't Chinese but this struggle of expressing positive emotions is something that stretches beyond geography.

Both my mom and my dad grew up in Vietnam during the '50s and left the country not long after Saigon fell to the Communists. My father was lucky enough to study engineering at the University of Utah as an international student while his birth country descended into chaos.

My mom was sponsored by my uncle where they settled down in Montreal. She finished CEGEP before moving onto studying at McGill and Concordia University. All this while working a part-time job and trying to master both English and French.

Pretty remarkable stories of overcoming adversity that, to this day, make me proud to be their son.

My parents aren't Chinese but this struggle of expressing positive emotions is something that stretches beyond geography.

But these weren't milestones to them, and not to my grandparents. No, for them, this was the norm; an expectation that life in a new country meant they'd have to work twice as hard to achieve something worthy of praise.

Graduation was no cause for celebration, it was a presumption for my parents' generation.

But I'm what Statistics Canada classifies as a "second-gen Canadian," someone born in Canada to immigrant parents.

brian trinh asian parents
Everyone, meet fat Brian (bottom left), age six.

And statistically speaking, I figured the odds were that I must have done something worthy in the last 26 years of existence to make them proud.

So I asked at a time I was guaranteed my parents wouldn't dare leave the room amidst a conversation: the dinner table.

It went something along the lines of this:

"How do you say, 'I'm proud of you' in Viet, Dad?"

"Tôi hãnh diện về anh con," he replies in between mouthfuls of rice.

"So how come you've never said you're proud of me?"

"That's because you haven't ever reached that level," he says, this time in English.


But then he laughs.

For him, it's a matter of familiarity, he explains. My grandparents never explicitly said they were proud of him. And it was the same for their parents, and their parents before that.

So for him, saying "he's proud of me" feels as unnatural as tucking me into bed or reading my brother a Dr. Seuss book, both rare occurrences.

Me graduating university was a moment of pride for him, he just didn't need me to know it.

brian trinh graduation
Some of us were happier than others when it came to my graduation.

As for my mom, she didn't believe in saying the "P word" to my face because in Vietnam -- much like in North America -- there's a concern too much praise goes to the head.

And she was right.

Because while praise from my parents was seldom, I got plenty of it from my friends and teachers. Teenage Brian may have scored 80s and 90s on tests but he was a 100 per cent certified asshole when it came to bragging about marks.

It wasn't until much later in life that I learned about khiêm tốn, Viet for "humility."

And that's about the same time I learned how mom and dad showed they were proud of me.

While it's clear he didn't like telling me, my dad made damn well sure my grandparents, aunts and uncles were well-informed of my achievements through half-hour long distance phone calls every weekend morning.

They displayed it through keeping my awards and medals safe, years after I thought they were long gone.

My mom proved it with small details, like how she'd purge decorations and jewellery in her bedroom but always managed to keep photos of myself and my brother as we graduated.

My childhood as a second-generation Canadian was very much defined by my achievements.

But the rest of my life? I'm going to let that be defined by my experiences, and cracking the secret to my parents and pride is one that definitely makes me proud.

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at

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