by Lily Liu
While reading “My Son the Fanatic”, I found myself beginning to search for parts of the text that felt relatable to my own experiences. There are plenty of differences between the story of Ali and Parvez and mine: setting, family dynamics, and the origins of such conflicts, but the larger themes resonated with me. Ali looks down on Parvez for not being religious, but Parvez recounts his time in Pakistan where he was made to study the Koran, the methods of which and their “indignity” caused him to avoid religion altogether.
Like Parvez, my parents are first-generation immigrants. The differences in their childhoods, time as students, and experience of what China was like and their understanding of the culture are all slightly unfathomable to me. This isn’t for a lack of effort or care, but simply because what they choose to tell me about doesn’t replace the extent of their knowledge. Without knowing the entirety of their background, there’s no way I should be able to judge my parents’ opinions on aspects of Chinese culture. There’s an emphasis to be made on the word “judge”- while I should take into account how they may differ from mine, I’m still at liberty to make my own decisions and act accordingly. Parvez oversteps in thinking he can push against Ali’s own choices instead of simply respecting them, even going so far as to resort to physical violence out of frustration in the end of the story. Ali lacks the ability to empathize and understand Parvez’s actions and lifestyle based on his background, stating that Parvez is too “implicated in Western civilization” and acting self-righteous without any semblance of respect for others who didn’t meet his standards. Focused and fixed on their own ideas, both fail to communicate and listen to one another.
Parvez and Ali have room for growth in their interactions with one another. For me, reading “My Son the Fanatic” is a lesson to regard my parents’ actions, as well as our differences in opinion surrounding our lives in America and Chinese heritage, with more empathy.