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.
“He brought us to where the venue was,” she said. “It was kind of outside and [the band] was in this glass building. There was this moment where we could see them in the glass, and we could wave and have that connection … He saw that we were smiling and that we were giddy. And he was like, ‘OK, are we good? Are we happy?’”
Young millennials and older Gen Zs just getting established in their own careers say they’ve been having the same experience in reverse. Athena Sobhan, 28, who is Bangladeshi American from Southern California, says she has taken her parents to shows that they never could have gone to as young people.
In 2018, after her mom completed treatment for breast cancer, Sobhan took both her parents to see Fleetwood Mac to celebrate.
“I got to experience them seeing their favorite artists which was really interesting because they never got to see them at their peak,” she said. “When we went to see Fleetwood Mac, my mom and I were the only ones standing and singing and screaming together.”
Marin Korenaga, whose dad has enjoyed around a dozen musical performances with her, added that the venues, filled with screaming fans and the artist projected before them, almost forces immigrant parents to give into joy, escape the stresses of immigration and see their children as people. It was during these shows, Korenaga said, that her father, a normally stoic geophysicist, began to see the warmth she felt when surrounded by the music at their first show together, a 2019 Maisie Peters concert, recognizing it as a similar feeling to what he experienced as a young, aspiring geophysicist. He quickly began to advocate for her dreams of becoming a singer-songwriter herself, she said.
“It definitely opened up a more vulnerable side of me,” she said. “It leads to more freedom and, like, discussion.”
Juliet Izon said her dad, a documentary filmmaker who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines, began accompanying her to Tori Amos shows, tagging along to at least five of them throughout the years. Izon said that her father, an avid musician who performed in bands all throughout her childhood, was open about his own music taste. But their Tori Amos outings were always, in part, his own effort to peek into her world. They would strike up conversations about songs or compare favorite albums — a tradition that she’s passed down to her own daughter.
“It was just fun for him to see what I was into,” Izon, 38, said. “When he started bringing me to concerts … it was just a fun way to get to know each other better.”
She added: “[Music] can transcend generations. It can transcend time.”
Kim Hoyos, 27, remembers her emo phase like it was yesterday. With few friends at school that shared her changing music taste, she said her dad became her concert companion.
“He was into the rock part,” she said. “He used to tell me all these stories of how they would play American music in the park in his town and, when a new album came out, people would make copies and buy them or just come listen for free at the park.”
Her parents, both Colombian immigrants, raised her on the sounds of salsa, cumbia and merengue, but when she became a Tumblr blogger with a tendency to shop at Hot Topic, they were more than accepting of that, too.
“They would venture into Hot Topic to buy T-shirts for me,” she said. “My dad brought me to Jack’s Mannequin shows. He loves the music, he doesn’t know every word or anything like that, but he knows the gist.”
It wasn’t the first or the last time music would play an important role in her relationship with her parents either. Her first concert experience with them was a Hillary Duff show in New York when she was 11 years old, and her mom has since accompanied her to see Taylor Swift.
“Those are just moments that I knew they would always be there for me,” she said.