Maha Hashwi, 25, has loved Taylor Swift for almost half her life. From her early-2000s heartbreak hits to the phenom she’s now become, the pop icon has become a family affair for Hashwi and her mom, who is a Lebanese immigrant.
“I would explain to her on long car rides everything about Taylor Swift’s life,” she told NBC News.
In August, a decade-plus of Swiftie education culminated in the two traveling from Michigan to Los Angeles to watch Swift perform live at her worldwide Eras Tour. Her mom was in awe, Hashwi said, and the experience brought them closer in ways she didn’t anticipate.
Hashwi and her mom are among the countless pairs of kids and their immigrant parents who have long found concerts to be an arena that transcends culture and differences, providing a way to bond, share interests and find a common language of sorts.
With a number of big-name concerts underway like The Jonas Brothers Tour, many children of immigrants have been reminiscing about the memorable shows, from Beyoncé to the Spice Girls to Taylor Swift, that have bridged divides across generations.
“When I learn lyrics in Arabic, it helps me feel closer to her and just being Lebanese,” Hashwi said. “And I think when we play our English, American music to our parents, it also helps them understand us.”
Chelsea Page, a 26-year-old based in Los Angeles, said that the music, powerfully blared over the speakers, has the ability to speak to all regardless of language skills. Page, who attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour a week ago, said she watched as her mother, a Filipino immigrant, danced the night away in a shimmery metallic top and screamed the lyrics of “Formation” and other hits.
“My mom is a little bit more reserved, English is not her first language and she and I are very different personality-wise,” Page said. “The intensity of her production for this really allowed us to … resign ourselves to everything that Beyoncé was saying, and feeling empowered and celebrating life.”
Page added that Beyoncé’s universal messages and social commentary on feminism holds significance across borders and oceans. For her and her mother, it made the experience all the more powerful with both unapologetically celebrating their womanhoods.
“It’s also very much a social thing and the influence of Beyoncé to kind of create that space where we’re allowed to let loose, have so much fun and just fully embrace the female experience and recognize there’s pain that comes with it,” Page said. “But we can still be powerful on our own terms, and we can celebrate that in and of itself.”
The concert outing tradition runs deep. And for many, it’s a way for immigrant families to celebrate their established lives in the U.S. with their kids, Katie Nguyen, a 33-year-old based in Los Angeles, said. Nguyen, whose father took her to see the Spice Girls and Britney Spears more than two decades ago when she was a child, said that he accompanied her, not just as a favor to her. Nguyen recounted seeing her dad, a Vietnamese refugee who was normally a more introverted guy, dancing to the music, with a smile spread across his face at the sight of his daughter having the time of her life.
“It was part of his immigrant experience. I don’t know if he had a chance to do this when he was in Vietnam. It was almost like, ‘Now I’m in America. I get to do this for the first time alongside my daughter,’” Nguyen said. “It wasn’t just about him being the chaperone.”
For immigrant dads who might not often express affection verbally, music has long been a medium to show that they cared. Stefanie Ricchio, 43, says her dad, who was a lower-income Italian immigrant, didn’t have the time or means to take his kids to shows.
“It just wasn’t a reality for us,” Ricchio said of her childhood in New Jersey. “When you’re single income, immigrant, blue-collar, it’s the necessities. It was paying your mortgage, paying your utilities, keeping your car in check. And then whatever else came after.”
But when one of her favorite bands, New Kids on the Block, came to town in the early 90s, her father did his best to create a special experience for the family.