Whether it’s because life gets busy, or it just never comes up, we often take the background stories of our loved ones for granted.
Personally, I’ve had a general idea of my parents’ stories. However, I’m a little sad to say I never really knew too much about them. Today I got a deeper look into my mom’s side. Why? I have an anthropology paper due soon, and we can pick to write our paper about either an immigrant or a senior citizen. When I explained this to my mom after she asked me why I was writing a paper about her, she said, “Oh, so you’re interviewing me as a senior citizen,” which made us both laugh because she’s still only about 50 years old.
Some things I already knew from the past, but this time I asked more thorough questions and my mom provided more information, so I actually learned a couple of really interesting/shocking things. It just goes to show these assignments can really produce great things sometimes. I mean, it’s not that I don’t care about my mother’s background. I just never thought of framing the right types of questions and asking certain types of questions until this assignment came along. If you want to learn about someone’s past, you can’t just simply ask them, “What was life like for you?” That’s such a vague question that will most likely bring about a really vague answer. Instead, you must take what you know about the person, and keep on building upon that knowledge to frame new questions. Instead of a huge, general question, you want to break it down into simpler pieces and ask more specific questions. As the interviewer, you must do the hard work and think of as many good questions as possible, instead of expecting your interviewee to provide you with all the golden answers because they will not know where to begin. They’ve got lots of experiences to share and lots of stories to share, but unfortunately they probably will not remember them or find them important unless you ask about them.
Just a few of the interesting things I learned about my mom that I didn’t know before… I didn’t know that she only had one job at a factory when she came over to America before having me (and took time off from work to care for me), and then pursuing her current career. I was under the impression that she had been through a lot of jobs before. I also learned that in the process of immigrating to America, she was detained for a year in Malaysia while paperwork was being done before she could come to America. And during that year in Malaysia, she lived in a refugee camp, where they had to build their own huts to live. I was aware of the difficult boat trip across the ocean to America (with pirates, too, stealing what little money they had), but I didn’t know she was detained in a refugee camp for a year before that. It might have been something that I would have never learned if it weren’t for this anthro paper. I’m grateful to have learned more about my mom’s story since she is getting older and I want to cherish everything about her.