FLIP

In immigrant families, there is a language-based social issue that I call The Flip.  In it, the parents and especially the mothers in traditional homes lose their authority, and the authority flips over to the bilingual child.

Take a typical immigrant family.  In many cases, Dad arrives years ahead of time and works and gets somewhat integrated, learning at least the English needed to converse with bosses and coworkers.  Then mom and children arrive.  Children get enrolled in school  while Mom stays home.  Everybody is out learning English, except Mom.

A few years later, daughter or son is taking mom to the bank, the doctor, the school, government offices, the grocery store, and acting as interpreter.  The child is making phone calls and talking to the manager about late rent.   Then the school sends a note home: your child struck another child at school.  Please come in for a meeting.  Sign here.  The child translates the letter: Yeah, Mom, it says I am getting good grades.  Sign here.  You don’t have to come to school.

Over time, the power and control that comes from knowledge of the culture, and ability to speak and communicate in English, shifts.  The family matriarch is slowly undermined until she is mostly irrelevant.  She is  viewed as ignorant, old-fashioned, out of place. She simply cannot understand what is going on at school or the streets or anywhere else.  She is no longer a person you would go to for advice or help.  Just the opposite – she relies on you, the child.  The family has flipped, and now the child is on its own.

Put yourself in the place of that child. When someone with authority on the street is willing to take you under their wing, there is a certain temptation.  And a certain sense of comfort.  Here is a new family that seems to have power and authority in your new community.  They have money and they have respect, and they can tell you what the rules are.  If you follow them, you will be okay.  Until the police get involved.  Then when you try to tell your mother what happened, she cannot understand.  She just sits there crying helplessly.  And you are alone once again.