Hear Me Out

I played “We’re Not Really Strangers” with my Immigrant parents

words by: Alee Kwong
Feb 14, 2021

In the hopes of staying sane and connected to those around us, the card game We’re Not Really Strangers blew up in 2020. The card game that encourages vulnerability and openness with one’s self and others took the internet by storm and became the go-to card game for roommates and FaceTime dates. If you haven’t heard of this game, it is almost fully explained in its title. The objective is to show each player that we all share similar experiences and can find common ground in our feelings. The card deck is broken up into three levels, each level representing the depth of questions and introspection. In nearly every post-game account, things get deep, big hugs were given, and tears were shed.

 

As someone who has gone on a handful of FaceTime dates, I can say that this game helps cut out the awkward first date small talk and really jumps right into the nitty-gritty without notice or apology. While I have been stuck in the quicksand that is the “talking stage” with nearly every person I went on a virtual date with, I can say that this game was extremely helpful in being a sort of vetting process during dates. It was the best kind of vibe check and helped me gauge how emotionally intelligent and empathetic my date was. It not only helped me figure out if I could vibe with my date but also challenged me to become an active listener and learn how to better support people while they’re being vulnerable.

 

Seeing as this went well with my dates, I thought to casually mention this game to my immigrant Chinese parents. I didn’t mention it in hopes that we would actually play the game, but it was just something to talk about while making the obligatory small talk with my parents. Like many parents, my parents have gotten softer with age and adorably nostalgic since all three of their children have left the house. At the time, one of my brothers and I just so happened to be back home in the Bay Area, and my mom requested (read: demanded) that we play the game before my brother went back to Los Angeles. As the oldest daughter, I agreed without hesitation. My stoic, emotionally unavailable Chinese dad and equally emotionally unavailable brother did just about everything except say, “Hard pass.”

 

I didn’t think much of my family playing this game if I’m being perfectly honest with you. There was no way that my family would all of a sudden surrender themselves to this game. I expected half-assed answers, passes, and eventually giving up halfway by pretending that we were hungry. But, they played all the way through and I learned more about my family on an individual level in 2 hours than I did in the 20+ years I had been alive. If you didn’t already know, immigrant parents are rocks. The struggle of physically getting to America, maintaining their lives here, withstanding racism, and finding a path to success has hardened many immigrant parents. They are not ones to wear their hearts on their sleeves or show compassion very easily (or ever). They grew up and were raised to keep all insecurities and struggles behind a curtain, only outwardly showing their intelligence, emotional fortitude, stamina, and success.

 

Without going into too much detail and in respecting my parents’ privacy, I will say that I learned so much about my parents. A lot of what I believed about them and their motivations when they were raising my brothers and me were dispelled and met with understanding and empathy. Hearing what their fears and insecurities were brought them down from the pedestal they firmly stood on my entire life. My parents, in that moment, felt more human. Our conversations surrounding the We’re Not Really Strangers card prompts were not between parent and child, but rather person-to-person. In the same way that I was surprised to hear their struggles and insecurities, they were surprised to hear how much my brother and I matured in our responses. I met my parents’ concerns and fears with validation, reassurance, and understanding. It was a completely different communication landscape and I was shocked at how well we navigated it despite the odds being stacked against us in so many different ways (such as upbringing, culture, generations, outlook on life).

 

Did this bring me closer to my family? Not exactly. While this game was a positive conversation starter, I don’t think that it’s a replacement for much-needed therapy. However, I do think that it has helped me understand my parents in a way I never thought was possible, and understanding them has allowed me to manage my expectations with them. I’ve always thought that once you become a parent, you start to figure things out with more ease but if this game has taught me anything, it’s that my parents are just like me – sometimes hopeful, sometimes scared, and always figuring it out along the way.

 

Photo via WNRS