The WhatsApp notification lights up my phone periodically throughout the day, all messages from my extremely Mexican mom. In between the check-ins asking what I'm eating, and if I think a top from TJ Maxx is cute, there are the memes. Many, many memes. But unlike the myriad Cats memes or Bernie Sanders once again asking for support memes that we see on our other feeds, the immigrant parent meme has an aesthetic and messaging all its own that connects ethnic customs, stupid jokes, and our non-native parents' lack of technological savvy in the most pure (sometimes offensive) way.
While moms of all ethnic backgrounds and geographical locations have ruined Facebook, it's really on WhatsApp where the immigrant parent can directly target their most intended audience—their offspring.
WhatsApp is a free encrypted messaging system owned by Facebook that boasts 2 billion active users worldwide, with most of its users—both in the U.S. and abroad—coming from Latin American backgrounds. The fact that the app is free, relatively safe, and allows people to stay connected to family and friends across the globe has helped it grow in popularity. WhatsApp is the sole method through which I stay in contact with my mom in Mexico, which means it's her main weapon in assaulting me with the dankest of Mexican-centric meh-mehs (how "memes" is pronounced in Spanish).
What makes a meme both dank and intrinsic to the immigrant parent, you ask? First and foremost, the aesthetic—the dank immigrant parent meme is ugly. Graphic design is not a consideration in the making or sharing of these memes. In fact, the absence of any sort of clean or visually appealing design is paramount. The font is either Comic Sans or some other attack on the typographical arts; the meme's messaging is sometimes in English, but typically in the parents' native language, even if their child isn't fluent in that language; the colors are garish; the pictures or clip art used are blurry or blown out, as though they sat in the Arizona sun for two weeks, then were run under a stream of acid; and there's often the use of beloved cartoon characters, spitting in the face of copyright laws. A prime example, sent by my mom:
The messaging is also key. These memes come in various, sometimes overlapping categories:
Classic funny memes
Typically just some joke poking fun at a stereotype or way of life within the parents' respective culture. (These are often offensive for various reasons.)
Wherein funny takes on topical social or political events are shared. Currently, coronavirus joke memes are coming in hot over WhatsApp (and on Facebook—or El Feis, as my mom calls it). One shows a young man wearing a container of Vicks VapoRub (the go-to cure-all in Latinx households) as a face mask with the caption "Fighting the coronavirus." (Unfortunately, these memes are also sometimes straight-up racist or sexist.)
In which parents send overtly religious good wishes written in elaborate cursive surrounded by teddy bears, twinkle stars, hearts, or some other castoffs from Blingee. And remember to send it to 10 others for good luck, or to share if you agree god is everywhere!
Parents don't need an excuse to reach out to their children regardless of whether it's in the middle of the workday to say "hi" or to angrily ask why all their Candy Crush points disappeared out of nowhere. Now they can lovingly pester you with a "Happy Monday, may god bless your week" or "wishing you a good day" via Betty Boop blowing a kiss, a random image of a cup of coffee, or some other hideous illustration.
Each of these messages—sent en masse over the course of the day and often followed up with a phone call asking if you saw the meme and then with uproarious laughter as they give you a step-by-step breakdown of the meme—are an expression of love and cultural appreciation. With these memes, immigrant parents who worked to keep their children who were born or raised far from the countries of their descent connected to the culture from where they came, and since they can be shared through technology, their children understand as digital natives. Hell, I can bet most of us immigrant kids sat with our parents to create that WhatsApp account and teach them how to use it, not foreseeing the slew of memes that would invade our lives thereafter.
When I mention the ridiculous memes sent by my mom to another first-gen, regardless of which country their parents are from, they have their own slew of dank memes sent via WhatsApp from parents, aunties, and uncles from all over the world. If the private DM is a mess, the family group chat is constantly in shambles, filled with memes mocking fat women, men driving scooters with at least six dogs as their passengers, or a bouquet of roses filled with hundred-dollar bills that reads "sending this wish for love and fortune to someone very special" in Farsi, Hindi, Arabic, Amharic, the various flavors of Spanish, and other languages.
The immigrant parent meme is a great unifier, bridging us beyond country lines and technological borders. No matter how far away home is, the dank meme is there to remind you that home is actually right in your pocket, blowing you up in the middle of a meeting. As our parents loved us through all our annoying kid shit, we can now return the favor by loving their terrible memes. This dank one especially encapsulates that sentiment:
Alex Zaragoza is a senior staff writer at VICE. You can follow her on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.