New York Times essay: TV was my family’s universal translator

Illustration: Lucy Jones

Published in the New York Times (July 2020)

For my Chinese immigrant family, television shows offered a way to convey the things we couldn’t express directly because of language, cultural or generational differences.

When I was 8, I learned that families weren’t supposed to eat in front of the TV. “Meal times are for talking to each other, not for staring at that box,” said Jenni-Lynn’s mom, who babysat for me when my parents worked late. I had asked if I could watch “Mork and Mindy” while eating my plate of Sloppy Joes.

“That’s not how we do things here,” she said. My cheeks burned as I caught the exasperated look she exchanged with her husband before she sat me down at their long wooden table.

But that was how we did things in my home…

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