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Identity Crisis, Cultural Confusion and Fear Put in Children by The First Generation of Immigrant Parents as Depicted in The Poems Fishbone and Hell's Pig

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Identity Crisis, Cultural Confusion and Fear Put in Children by The First Generation of Immigrant Parents as Depicted in The Poems Fishbone and Hell's Pig essay
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Mothers and daughters, generally, clash in the adolescent and teenage years; imagine going through those years trying understand who one is and being a second generation immigrant. Aimee Nezhukumatathil gives a glance into what it would look like to grow up with first generation parents in America. She shares stories that stem from the truth she knows of having a Filipino mother and all the folklore and stories of that culture. There is an evident culture difference and with that a fear in their differences, whether it be food, social, or ethical. The poems “Hell Pig” and “Fishbone” demonstrates the fear, cultural confusion, and identity crisis first generation immigrant parents have instilled on their children. In these stories, the mother is a vessel of communication, an instrument in the shaping of identity as her daughter negotiates with the culture she in born into as a Filipina and the one that surrounds her as an American.

Identity is something that tends to be a difficult concept to understand coming from a family of first generation immigrants, but the answer to this mystery can most likely be traced to food. In “Fishbone”, the daughter tries to determine where her identity lies while witnessing two cultures unfold at the dinner table: “At dinner, my mother says if one gets stuck / in your throat, roll some rice into a ball / and swallow it whole. She says things / like this and the next thing out of her mouth / is did you know Madonna pregnant?” (Nezhukumatathil, 1-5) Her mother is trying to relate to her daughter and the American pop culture that surrounds her life but her daughter cannot stop looking at the fish eyes. She compares her breakfast to a normal, American breakfast, cheerios: “Wonder why we can’t / have normal food at breakfast like at Sara’s house—’ … ‘Safe. Pretty. / Nothing with eyes.” (Nezhukumatathil 10-11, 14-15) At this moment in the poem, the comparison to safety can go a couple different ways. The obvious would be that her breakfast is unsafe because she is eating an entire fried fish, and when you eat fish sometimes little pieces of the spine break off and they get stuck in your throat. That’s why the mother in the poem advises her daughter to roll a rice ball and swallow it whole. From the poet’s perspective, however, she feels safer having a traditional American breakfast, nothing taxing or difficult to show to new friends. Nezhukumatathil’s finds this struggle of her identity through the safety and normality of her meals, but her mother’s effort to balance the two worlds in the beginning of the poem allows the poet to grow into the abnormality of her culture, fully accepting it as she “snaps off the next head.” (Nezhukumatathil 31)

In “Hell Pig”, the mother brings fear to her daughter by telling her if she stays out late at night then the hell pig would follow the daughter: “To keep me from staying out late at night, / my mother warned of the Hell Pig. Black and full / of hot drool, eyes the color of a lung—it’d follow me / home if I stayed past my curfew.” (Nezhukumatathil, 1-4) This is a cultural folklore personifies the mother’s own fear while instilling the fear of a childhood monster: “It’s not like the pig / had any special powers or could take a tiny bite / from my leg— only assurances that it was simply / scandal to be followed home.” (Nezhukumatathil, 8-11) Parents embed advice and rules for their children through stories and fables as an easier form of communication: “A single black hair flickers awake the ear / of the dark animal waiting for me at the end of the walk.’ … ‘the pig grunting in tune to each hurried step, each / of his wet breathes puffing into tiny clouds, a small storm brewing.” (Nezhukumatathil 16-17, 19-20) Behind the pageantry of a story, parents do not make the same mistakes that they may have committed in their youth or they are afraid of their children being put into dangerous situations. As for immigrant parents, they are parenting in a country with a completely different social culture and family structure. On top of the fear every parent faces when allowing their children freedom to make their own decisions, they have to maneuver how to face these challenges together rather than facing this challenge with wisdom of the past. Most immigrant parents just wrap everything up with an early curfew bow and call it a day, which is a major cause of frustration for their children. But when all is said and done, parents just want to keep their children safe at all times but especially during adolescence.

Understanding the life of an immigrant can be challenging if it has not been experienced first hand but Nezhukumatathil does a great job of showing the black and white differences between the American culture and other cultures around the world. Her resourcefulness when writing about her cultures and the struggles of conforming to either allows audience members, those who have experienced it first hand or have never had the opportunity to, to tap into the confusing era of adolescents as an immigrant. In the article “The Migrant’s Quest Home: Caribbean Identity in Diaspora”, author Tobian Banton relates how teaching through cultural storytelling benefits children and their decision making: “Lessons of foreign lands inspire the children to reach for this ideal place where education, intelligence, great mobility and social advancement are created.” In congruence, author Jessica P. Lougheed of the article entitled “Arousal transmission and attenuation in mother–daughter dyads during adolescence” finds that this personal connection between the poet’s mother and herself to her adapting to becoming a fully functioning adult: “Several characteristics of parent–adolescent dyads suggest the importance of interpersonal SNS arousal dynamics to psychosocial adjustment.” For Nezhukumatathil, her lessons introduced by her mother through what she deemed as unconventional was actually helpful in her full acceptance of herself and her native culture.

Learning two cultures maybe even three can be taxing on an adolescent who is just starting to understand what they want in life. Teenagers start to develop and discover more of their sexuality and for parents that can create an onset of fear, concern, and hopes that they can communicate themselves properly to their child. As a reader, one can truly envision the cultural fears and confusion the daughter experiences in “Fishbone” and “Hell Pig”. Her mother in both poems tries to adapt to the American culture when raising her child, but growth in adaptation is not without a few bumps in the road. The poet notes how her mother communicated in the best way she could, by storytelling from her culture and advice across the dinner table. It may not be the most conventional way at first glance, but it helped her grow as an individual with a strong understanding of her own identity as a Filipina and as an American.

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Identity Crisis, Cultural Confusion and Fear Put in Children by the First Generation of Immigrant Parents as Depicted in the Poems Fishbone and Hell’s Pig. (2018, December 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 6, 2022, from
“Identity Crisis, Cultural Confusion and Fear Put in Children by the First Generation of Immigrant Parents as Depicted in the Poems Fishbone and Hell’s Pig.” GradesFixer, 11 Dec. 2018,
Identity Crisis, Cultural Confusion and Fear Put in Children by the First Generation of Immigrant Parents as Depicted in the Poems Fishbone and Hell’s Pig. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Aug. 2022].
Identity Crisis, Cultural Confusion and Fear Put in Children by the First Generation of Immigrant Parents as Depicted in the Poems Fishbone and Hell’s Pig [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Dec 11 [cited 2022 Aug 6]. Available from:
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