First Born Asian American Children Bear a Special Burden

Aug 24, 2018 by

Fresh Off the Boat Boys

Views from the Edge

There’s a special burden borne by Asian American first-born, according to a new study by university researchers.

I’m thinking of the first-born of siblings that I know – either brought to the U.S. as immigrants or children of first-generation immigrants. They pretty much set the standard for the rest of the kids.

If the standards are high, younger siblings seek to go higher. If the standards are low, younger siblings still seek to exceed their elder brother or sister, but the goal is often not as high as it could have been.

Besides being a bridge between cultures, with one foot in the traditions of the country of origin and the other foot in the new land of America, the first-born often serve as the buffer between old-country parents who cannot understand the new customs adopted by their Americanized children.

I remember being chastised by my parents when I complained about something, probably about doing a chore, and I uttered “Gee!” — what I saw as a perfectly innocuous form of pre-teen protest.
My sister – 12 years my senior, explained to my parents that it was something all the kids said and it could certainly be worst words to use to express my pre-teen exacerbation. The fact she was able to explain in my parents’ native Tagalog, helped cool the situation.
(Of course, as an adult looking back, “Gee!” could be interpreted as a shortened form of “Jesus!,” the utterance of which in my Roman Catholic upbringing, would be considered a sin. So maybe, my parents were justified in their anger.)

Nevertheless, my older sister protected me.

The University of Michigan, which took part in the research, released its findings recently in the Journal of Family Issues. A summary of their findings follow:
* * *

When compared to European Americans, Asian American firstborns feel the additional burden of being cultural brokers and having to take care of their immigrant parents and young siblings at the same time, research suggests.

The study explores how both groups—ages 18 to 25—viewed sibling relationships, their birth order, and family relations.

Several positive themes of siblingship emerged from the interviews: feeling supported, appreciated, and comforted during interactions with their siblings. Some participants disclosed that siblings alleviate pressure from parents that might otherwise cause conflict.

Along birth order themes, firstborns from both groups felt motivated to become role models for their younger siblings by having high-achievement levels, confidence, and behavior. However, for some Asian American later-borns, the pressure to measure up also stemmed in part from parents’ tendency to compare their children, according to the study.

For firstborn Asian Americans, the sibling caregiving and cultural brokering responsibility—regardless of gender—created dual pressure, the study shows. In Asian cultures, the oldest son traditionally has greater obligations in the family, but more firstborn females are taking on these roles—even when there are young male siblings in the household, says lead author Kaidi Wu, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Michigan.

Asian American families may rely more heavily on the firstborn than their counterparts for various reasons. But the increased family obligations may have an adverse impact on the older Asian American siblings, such as greater depression and anxiety, the study cautions.
Sibling bonds protect kids from fighting parents

Nevertheless, Wu says having siblings can be beneficial to Asian American firstborns, when firstborns struggle with their parents’ more traditional cultural perspectives (such as marrying a Chinese person because they are Chinese) and have their younger siblings to relate to. This finding contrasts with previous research in which older siblings closely resemble parents’ stance on Asian values and differ from later-borns who acculturate more easily into the mainstream American culture.

The findings appear in the Journal of Family Issues. The study’s other authors are from UCLA, the University of Michigan, and the Toronto District School Board.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff or submitting a story.

Source: AsAm News | First Born Asian American Children Bear a Special Burden

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.