From my earliest stage of literacy, on a Fourth of July, I remember writing essays about freedom and identity. Certain things never changed: Freedom, in spite of how it is viewed, is still considered to be an essential value, and the sheer diversity of the country makes recognition of different identities unavoidable. As I grew older, my understanding changed, particularly regarding identity and the many ways it is expressed. This year as I think about my experiences as a social worker, I see how much families, including my family, shape our identities. In that sense I have struggled with the idea of freedom and what limitations our families can place on it. At the same time, through a small application of what I had learned in my professional life, I saw how hope is possible, and how it can even be critical for creating growth and enabling self-discovery.
One of my family members holds a different view from the rest of my family. While I disagree with her, I also think it is not right for her to be alienated. She has not been, but she knows that if she were to be honest the family would try to persuade her to change, and that if she does not then they would not be able to accept that. That is a paradox to me, to be honest—if one has a certain view, it does not change because someone else does not accept it. It changes if they see things differently with their own eyes.
It is a result of this difference that I thought of all the different ways families can struggle when trying to promote growth. The very freedom that makes the United States unique also means that there are many immigrants, who then have children with different values and beliefs from their parents. As these come into conflict, the children can feel that the differences take away their freedom—what might not be restrictive in their parents’ culture can even be experienced as repressive to the children. Working with American families involves constantly encountering this struggle, which affects all American families in the long run. These differences add even more complexity to the dynamic in an immigrant family like ours.
The challenge is that it is not simply about standing up for one’s beliefs. While on the surface we have the freedom to develop our identities, in reality we can be torn—being something different can seem to signify a sort of betrayal, abandoning one tribe for another. The sense of loss is the price—and a silencing of all the complex parts of ourselves seems to make it easier to share only the things that “matter.” But so many things matter, because ironically the idea of things being “my truth” versus “your truth” never lets two people genuinely open up, because some topics are immediately discarded for fear of polluting the other person’s freedom.
Ironically, in the past I had the same view as the minority family member, but in spite of the fear of pollution I announced my views. My views have changed, but at the time I remember facing the hostility and feeling the pain, and I know that is something I would not wish on her. It is not merely words. Words are powerful—the words that declare our independence this month, the words that shape the core of my beliefs, the words that I type as I wonder if she will approve me submitting this (I intend to ask for her approval).
And so this Fourth of July I reflect on the power of words that are unspoken and the words that both strengthen and build. I remember, after a particularly intense conversation, her saying: “we’ve got each other,” and feeling so thankful and privileged to hear that. I think what it meant was that even if I believed the same thing that the majority did, between me and her, we both shared the value of authenticity. And it is only from that foundation, personally, that my views have ever been shaped.
Yuna Youn is a Social Worker and recent graduate of the NYU Silver School of Social Work. While she was in school she was part of the Social Media Team as a Student Blogger, and worked with adolescents and adults in the community and in the court system. She worked with a teen theatre improvisational group to provide drama therapy, while in the court system she provided individual and group counseling to a variety of clients. She is interested in using writing to deepen the relationship between therapeutic interventions and social change.