Written Sep 3, 2018
The past few weeks as I’ve been going thru well, life, I’ve had some opportunities to talk to some of my fellow first gen’s about some difficulties I’ve been having. All a mix of growing pains and self-inflicted pressure. I realized that we were all going through some version of these same situations silently and so I thought I’d write about them. Maybe this is helpful to one of you reading this and you’ll find comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one feeling what you’re feeling.
Okay. First things first. Who here is the child of immigrant parents and has felt this immeasurable sense of needing to be the best thing since sliced bread? That, or face mass judgement by the best of your family members and eternal sneak disses by that one auntie.
I’m currently imagining a mass of hands going up (praying a lot of people read this post to amount to a mass of hands to begin with LOL) and heads nodding feverishly like “Yassss girl I FEEL that!”
To make things worse, you feel like you’re disrespecting the hardship your parents might’ve gone through to get to the U.S. because of your “failures” and you’ve got yourself quite the predicament.
For some of you, I know this fuels your fire like nothing else and you head out into the world and become the Cesar Milan’s/Uzo Aduba’s/Michelle Kwan’s that we celebrate. The awareness of the opportunities you’ve been given and the example of such hard-working, relentless families surrounding you propel you forward to accomplish the greatest of heights. Hats off to you my friends, because you’re pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished no matter the circumstances every single day.
But that isn’t all of us, and it’s not me. Personally, I have always had a hard time with this pressure. It’s often been debilitating, difficult, and overwhelming to try to navigate life as a young adult while also trying to live up to my mom and dads’ expectations of what I should be. Heidi you should do this, Heidi you’ve got so much opportunity just go that way. The subtle hints of “we came here with nothing and have given you everything we can, so make something of it,” suck. As you grow up with the usual stresses of school, trying to figure out the kind of person you’re going to become, and maturing, you also consider the high expectations you have to live up to. And I know a lot of you will read this and think, okay well boohoo that’s every child, right?
I beg to differ.
For those of you non first-gen folks, you have a pretty big advantage. Your families are more ingrained with American culture and you taking your time to figure out what path your life will take doesn’t feel like a make or break decision. You’ve hopefully got a little more wiggle room and freedom to enjoy and explore life while you consider what it is will be your choice to go full steam ahead with your future. A lot of first generation kids don’t have that. Many become the sole revenue streams for their families early on, and any change in their paths comes with a lot of consideration as to how it affects one or more individuals they are responsible for.
Some of you might have dreams of being something totally different than what your family has molded for you. You may not have any dreams at all and are trying to figure out your passions. Asking for patience and respect and kindness in these incredibly personal times can be awkward and risky. Our loved ones unrelenting desire to see us succeed often manifests itself as them constantly pushing us to be our “best.” The consideration of whether we are genuinely happy often gets lost in the chaos.
I don’t know about most of you, but just the thought of having a relationship and telling my parents makes me cringe. Sorry but if you aren’t a doctor/genius/part time attorney/pioneering politician/and weekend astronaunt – good luck. Okay, I’m exaggerating but I know for many of us first gen’s, bringing home someone “worthy enough” is a MAJOR deal.
I remember growing up I’d watch all these shows where the kids bring their dates home and it’s no big deal, everyone giggles and welcomes whoever in like it’s just another day. HA! Cute.
Not our case. I’ve literally made a rule for myself that unless I think or see potential of myself marrying the individual, no one’s coming home. Why you might ask, is this such a big deal?
In my case, my mom like so many others, did not have the best of relationships. Abusive, controlling, toxic, relationships are incredibly common in a lot of our cultures and our parents (I’m looking at you my beautiful immigrant Momma’s) go into the world with a paralyzing fear that we might end up in the same situation as them. Therefore, they do everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. For others, marriage could be considered a golden opportunity for you to move up in the world. And for some of you it may even be both!
Regardless, dating is no easy feat and often our choices and caution are misunderstood by others who haven’t had an experience quite like ours.
The quotation marks are on purpose.
You can do whatever you’d like with your life, absolutely. But for a lot of us, that means keeping in mind the ten other items that go along with making sure that as you age, so is your family. You’ve got to plan your retirement aspirations as well as your parents, your grandparents’, maybe even aunts and uncles. Immigrant families are close knit groups and the love and lifestyle that you enjoy because of the proximity is amazing. It also however, lends itself to carrying a lot of responsibility for us first gen-er’s. Our decision making is intricate and multi-faceted because so much of what we choose to do and act upon can greatly influence the lives of those closest to us. A lot of us end up maturing developing empathetic sensibilities quickly because we understand from young ages that our choices affect those closest to us.
So, what now?
So, my fellow first generationer’s, now what? What do we do with all these chips being seemingly stacked on our plate from jump, while we try to also balance having our own freedom’s and experiences? The biggest crutch for me are my friends. Expand your outlook. Get to know others and learn what they grew up like. Explore the cultures of those around you and you’ll quickly find similarities, especially if you happen to be the children of immigrant parents. I almost never have the answers, but after lengthy consultations with the girls who I know understand me the most, I often walk away with more clarity and peace than I would’ve ever had trying to figure things out on my own.
In addition to forming those fundamental bonds, learn to understand and empathize with yourself. The pressure of so many responsibilities is heavy and can overwhelm even those with the strongest of mindsets.
Give yourself space and find something that allows you to spend some time being truly selfish. Go to an arcade, spend an afternoon at a beach or lake. Find your equilibrium and allow yourself to remember that this is YOUR life to live no matter what. We’ll always yearn to do the best for those around us but, disregarding yourself and your mental well being is the quickest way to fail everyone, not just yourself.
Try not to let the fear of making mistakes paralyze you. You’re going to let people down every now and then. It’s a natural process in life. Don’t avoid things because you’re scared of what your loved ones will say or do. If they dislike it, oh well. If they gossip about it, oh well. It’s your life to live and they’ll get over it, eventually.
And finally, don’t be so hard on them. Whether it’s your parents, grandparents, extended family, whomever. They all have varying reasons for having come to this country and most of the time those aren’t positive. They’ve often lived through hardships that we can’t even fathom and through the years have done their best to raise the children they’ve brought into this world. They’ve often spent the bulk of their lifetimes in countries with much different views on parenting and relationships and it will take them years of continual growth to understand that your expectations are going to be different that what they expected from their families.
They won’t ever be perfect and more than likely the sheltering and protectiveness is a result of them wanting to protect you from the evils they’ve seen can occur in the world we live in.
Embrace who you are and where you come from. As first generationer’s we get to add to the kaleidoscope of cultures that make this nation so great and your story is valuable. Hold your head up high, quirky family and all. Trust me, there’s plenty of people that understand exactly what you’re going through.
And to @bosefina, preach girl. That tweet spoke to me for sure.
Written Sept 3, 2018