One challenge in growing up with immigrant parents is navigating medical services. Growing up, my mom used to take me to Dr. Cho, the Korean dentist nearby. He had the benefit of being close to home and Korean, so my mom felt comfortable with him. However, his English wasn’t very good, which made going to the dentist rather miserable. I would sit in the chair, Dr. Cho hovering over me with all sorts of dental implements, not understanding most of what he said (my Korean wasn’t proficient enough to grasp his words.) I didn’t want to say I didn’t understand, so I would just nod and play along.
If you get squeamish over dentist stories, skip the next paragraph.
This language barrier wasn’t a problem until Dr. Cho performed the root canal. I still remember it as a very painful experience (lots of scraping). Several months later, I had a terrible headache with swelling in my jaw. I went to another dentist, who told me I had an abscess from an infection, filling my gum with pus. She numbed the infected area, put a suction tube in my mouth, and sliced the gum open, spilling the pus out. The tube got most of the pus, but it was a painful and disgusting experience. Later, I went to get the root canal checked out by another dental surgeon. He showed me an X-ray of my teeth. “See that little area? That’s your root canal. And see this small gray sliver? I’m not sure, but I think it’s a piece of metal. Whoever did your root canal broke off a dental implement in your tooth.” The follow-up root canal was relatively painless. Suffice it to say, I haven’t returned to Dr. Cho since.
I have heard stories about children helping immigrant parents to navigate services in English (6 year old kids explaining forms at the DMV, for example). More rare is how children try to navigate receiving services for themselves in their parents’ foreign language. This can often lead to confusing (and painful) experiences.