I am the child of immigrants. I am the child of two people who moved to another country with not a penny to their names and worked themselves to the bone for twenty years to finally earn a small house with a yellow lawn and white picket fence. My parents worked hard and endured continuous years of hardship because they were promised a light at the end of the tunnel. My family is The American Dream personified. And just as my parents’ lives were strung along by a longheld promise, my life has been shaped by that same promise. At age seven, mama said, “If you play violin well, you can go to really good college.” And so for ten years I hid violin bruises on my neck. At age twelve, baba said, “If you get into a good college, you’ll get a job that makes a lot of money!” And so I studied six years for the SAT and wrote 15 applications for the top schools in the country. I wanted to succeed so badly. But not because I inherited the same drive as my parents. I wanted more than ever to validate my parents’ sacrifice and finish obtaining the American Dream in their stead.
The overwhelming pressure to live up to my parents’ history of sacrifice and endurance, combined with misplaced priorities to please others rather than myself, created an unsustainable mindset and lifestyle. It was mentally exhausting to self-report and exaggerate my college accomplishments to my parents. I turned innocent phone calls with mama into resume updates. I put on a persona of exaggerated maturity and independence every time I come home to reassure my parents and be a good role model to my younger brother. I wanted so badly to earn enough money so we would stop renting our home to strangers to pay my tuition, so we would stop clipping coupons to afford clothes at thrift stores. Desperate to please my family and accomplish the American Dream in their place, I was bound to eventually crash and burn.
I became depressed the summer before my sophomore year. Even worse, the shame associated with my “failure” to handle my mental health delayed me from asking for professional help until very late. I felt like all my efforts to succeed were fruitless and it was impossible to make my parents proud. However, my inevitable confrontation with my misguided desire to succeed for others’ sake helped me let go of the pressure and stress to be perfect for others.
Something that lurks in my mind and in the minds of many children of immigrants is the unique desire to succeed and make our parents proud. To validate our parents’ monumental sacrifices and show ourselves off as the fruit of their labor. And we impatiently work and push ourselves to our limits to show results, but when hard work doesn’t pay off like how it did for our parents, the grief is multiplied many times over. For anyone who can empathize and for those who cannot, know that you are enough as you are right now. Breathe, move slow. You can always kick ass tomorrow.