Photo by Kikomo.P Imagery
Photo by Kikomo.P Imagery

Haley Cao is the author of We, a collection of essays and poems that depict the life of being first generation Asian American. From family dynamics between first generation Americans and immigrant parents to the relationships between herself and the world around her, Haley’s work explores her narrative of navigating life in America.

7 Aftershocks of the Cultural Earthquake (An Excerpt)


On my scholarship and college forms, they ask for my parents’ levels of education. I can feel my muscles tense as I watch others mark “four year university” and above on their forms. I swallow the lump in my throat each time as I put “high school” and “middle school” for my mother and father.

My father rambled on of how he and my mother were the top of their classes back in China.Back in China. He always found some way to talk about how things were back in China. He told stories of his life in China as if they were fables, fairytales with a beautiful ending. I am afraid to ask, “why are you in America now?”


At dinner, my mother steams chicken wings in the rice cooker. As my teeth rip through the tender flesh off of the bones, my father says, “You know, I wish we ate like this growing up.”

“We didn’t have a lot growing up,” my mother says.

“China was very poor back then.”

“Very poor. But it isn’t like that now.”

“We had a whole chicken only once a year!” They laugh with each other, recounting starvation as if it were the punchline to some joke. A joke I do not understand.