Struggles and Sacrifices: Immigrating Families
Shift in culture is obviously one of the biggest challenges that immigrant parents face. However, understanding and embracing a different culture is not the only concern and in fact may not be the biggest for many families. One of the biggest struggles parents face is how to adjust and help their children to adjust to their new environment without losing site of their own culture and traditions. Things like, language and age appropriate activities are among the most common differences that concern immigrant parents.
At first, in my home, language was the sticking point. My dad didn't want me to forget how to speak Portuguese. He had a strict rule about speaking Portuguese at home. In school and with friends I spoke English of course. However, when I was home with my parents we only spoke Portuguese. It's funny how much you grow to appreciate things as you get older. I remember being so annoyed with my dad, thinking "Christ, why can't we just speak English?” NOW? I thank God that my dad pressed on despite my protests. I now speak it fluently and doing so has helped me immensely in my career. What my dad gave me was actually a gift and I didn’t realize it until I was a grown woman.
As I got older going out with friends and curfews were a huge deal. My parents were “strict”. My friends were able to go to the mall without their parents, date boys and stay out late, but not me. I WAS SO ANGRY! Back home things are very different, much more conservative, so, it was unheard of to have your daughter roaming around with little to no supervision and staying out past dark. Boys? No way, no boyfriends, just friends. Now I’m a mom and guess what? I finally get it. Mom and Dad, I get it, I get it, I get it and oh how I thank you for being “strict”. Don’t get me wrong, I was no saint, but I also didn’t get myself into trouble, get pregnant at 14, get high or drink like some of my friends at the time did. Sleepovers happened eventually but it took a while. I was all my mom and dad had here, they had no friends here and the only family they had in the US was not easily accessible. So, a sleepover meant that my parents would have to trust a perfect stranger with my safety. Having a sleepover at my house meant that they would be responsible for the well-being of strangers child. In Portugal my closest friends were cousins and a neighbor that might as well have been my cousin. Slumber parties with friends were an oddity for my parents. As always though, my mom and dad finally gave in and allowed me to have friends sleepover to make me happy, but more than that it was a he step in giving me a greater sense of normalcy and belonging.
A Little Insight
As I get older I become more and more aware of the sacrifices made by my parents. Although I was adjusting well, I still struggled with missing my family, especially my grandparents. My first few months here were hell, I was so angry with my parents for being selfish. I hated school, I didn't have friends and even if someone did want to befriend me it would be pretty hard to befriend someone you can't communicate with. My saving grace was my ESL teacher, Mr. Williams and some of the kids in my ESL class. They were so great. The 2 hours in ESL class were the best 2 hours EVER. I still couldn't communicate with these kids but at least I knew they were in the same situation and so they weren't judging me and giggling when they looked at me. Sounds terrible right? Well, it was. Yet, it was nothing compared to what my parents were going through.
My mom and my dad had a life in Portugal; they had friends, family, a car and jobs that they loved. They come here, left their brothers, sisters, parents, nephews and nieces. They left everything that had made them who they were. In essence, they left themselves behind. They became different people with different goals and were all alone here just like me. I never thought about that, not once. Why did they do it you ask? For me, they undoubtably did it for me. They wanted to give me all of the opportunities that they never had and they did. I am successful today because they gave up the life they made for me. Crazy right? It's insane how selfless 2 people can be when they know their sacrifice will prevent their child from having to sacrifice later.
I often hear people making negative comments about immigrants and their being here to scam them system. Clearly, I realize that some do. However, from experience, I know the sacrifice it takes to leave all you know behind and start over somewhere completely new. I remember every tear I cried and every helpless look on my parents faces as I begged to go home. You can't imagine it unless you've lived it. My parents did raise a fool, I know some people will read this an scoff at it and I'm ok with that. My goal is to make just one person look at people like my family and I a little differently and recognize the sacrifice that got me here
In closing, I am grateful for every tear and every bad day. I am grateful because if I didn't know the struggle I wouldn't appreciate my success nearly as much as I do.
- Immigrating With Young Children
Imagine being a child in a great big room filled with strangers who look at you as if your presence is anything but welcome. Scared to death, lost and completely alone