The topic of immigration within the US has become the hot topic over the past few years (specifically spiking from 2016 onward). Incidentally, the proposed laws revolving around immigration have created a great divide within society. For me personally, the topic of immigration has always been a sensitive one as I feel that I straddle between the lines by being a child of immigrant parents.
Being a child of immigrant parents, aka a “first generation American”, has played a huge role in my identity, my core values, and my cultural views going into adulthood. I never spoke much about it when I was younger, but now that the conversation is officially on the table and out in the open for people who are similar to me to talk about, I feel a strong sense of duty with inserting myself into that conversation.
Growing up, most of my friends were white. That wasn’t in any way intentional, that’s just how things panned out. When I looked to my left and my right within my friends circle, I always knew that I looked different from them. I knew that my family was a bit different from theirs. I knew that my home life was a bit different from theirs. But, I tried to never let that interfere with my relationships. However, it became especially difficult whenever I felt that I needed someone to talk to, but couldn’t.
Being the outlier in my group of friends meant that although I could voice my thoughts and my internal struggles about race or nationality to them, they would still never be able to fully understand what I was trying to say. Though it was spoken in plain English, it probably sounded like a different language to them whenever I tried to explain what it was like to be a first generation American — it’s this sense of dual-identity or even a dual-personality that can be heavily conflicting.
I know that I am, in fact, American. My parents are, in fact, Americans…but, they weren’t always Americans. And that’s where the sense of confusion lies. Being exposed to two cultures, two very different cultures, imposed several peculiarities in my upbringing and in turn, my very sense of self. These peculiarities raised many curious questions whenever I compared what my family experiences were like versus my friends’.
Why don’t we have a turkey at Thanksgiving?
Why does my Dad eat with his hands?
Why do we eat rice every day?
It was these types of questions that were not familiar to my friends who didn’t have parents who came from another country. They didn’t have these types of questions to ask because the only culture that they ever knew of, and that their parents ever knew of, was American culture. And though I too have experienced the full spectrum of American culture by being born here, I also had exposure to one that was not my own. Then, trying to explain that exposure was always hard for other people, people who weren’t like me, to understand. There’s a common thread between children of immigrant parents, for those of us who known as first generation Americans.
It’s the commonality of being immersed in a home life that isn’t solely American.
Yes, people can travel to other countries. Yes, people can even live in other countries. People can “experience” other cultures and try to understand what those other cultures like, but they can never fully get to know it the same way if it’s not coming from the very people who raised them — their parents.
I was influenced to write about this topic after reading a VICE article titled, “The Hidden Stress of Growing Up a Child of Immigrants” written by Nicole Clark. One line in particular resonated with me. She begins her article by introducing an individual named Sara whom she spoke to in contribution to this article. Later, she writes,
“I think a lot about the quote, ‘You inherit your parents’ trauma but you will never fully understand it,’” Sara said.
The Hidden Stress of Growing Up a Child of Immigrants
This article appears in VICE Magazine's Borders Issue. The edition is a global exploration of both physical and…
And this really put things into perspective in terms of trying to close the cultural gap between my parents and I. Then, to take it a step further, it put things into perspective with trying to close the cultural gap between me and my friends and peers who aren’t first generation Americans.
It’s the gap in knowledge of never fully being able to understand the struggles of those who came before us. And this gap will only continue to grow larger with my offspring and their offspring and my offspring’s offspring and so on — because the further away that we are from the direct source, the harder it is for us to relate.