One time when I was in the 6th grade, we made this cool putty thing. I had never been more excited in my life to come home and play with it, as my parents would never buy something like that for me. When I got home, I sat on our tan recliner and starting playing with the putty, inevitably, making a mess. I remember my dad coming home and getting angry with me. He began to yell at me and was trying to say I was making a mess on purpose. The only issue was that in his broken English, “purpose” was sounding a lot like “purple,” and I could not contain my laughter.
When I was in high school, for some reason or another my dad had to come to school and sign me out. I remember going to the main office and hearing my dad talking with the secretary. I can’t remember now what it was over, but the secretary could not understand my dad and was talking to him in a very condescending tone. Although my dad’s English is not perfect, having been in the US since the 1970’s, it was very good. So much so, that it was rarely an issue to understand him. However, at this moment this woman was giving my dad the hardest time. I remember taking over the conversation, becoming angry with the secretary for patronizing my dad.
My dad came to this country in his early teens, and since then has been hustling. Now my dad has never touched drugs in his life, or anything illegal. However, there is no other way to describe his work ethic. When my grandmother was right in her mind, she would also tell us stories about how my dad came to the US and learned to speak English, by teaching a friend how to drive in return. My dad would work multiple jobs, including working in restaurants, bodegas, and doing random little side jobs. Nothing we’ve ever had was by luck. My father worked hard to bring my mother from Dominican Republic, and my two sisters. Then they had their favorite child in New York! (Of course, that is me!)
My mother came to the US in her early twenties. She did not work until I was around 7 or 8, but after that, she worked up until 4 years ago. My mom does not speak English. I remember explaining to my friends how my mother does not speak English and one made a comment, “I can’t believe someone would be in the US and not even attempt to learn English. There is no excuse.” At the time I did not say anything because I was too angry. Later on I remember thinking of all the things I wish I had said. “Oh yes, I’m sorry mom did not take the time to learn English. She has so much free time when she works 40 hours a week, and comes home to resume her responsibilities as a mother and wife. I’m sorry she goes to bed at 8PM exhausted, only to wake up at 4AM the next day to do it again. I’m sorry she does not wake up an hour earlier, than her 4 AM wake up time, to study her English.”
I admit I might be very defensive about my parents, but when you see grow up seeing your parents struggle in a country, that is unlike anything they grew up knowing, you might be too. When you see your parents working 40 hours a week, in a meat factory, just to help with your college education, you would be defensive. When your parents leave the house at 5 in the morning, and do not come home until 6 at night, you would be defensive of anyone who would try to put down your parents because their English is not perfect, or they don’t speak English at all. You would be defensive of people who question your parents’ intelligence because they can’t go to the bank without you there. You would be defensive when people question why your sisters send money to your parents, when they already moved out.
There was nothing we wanted, that my parents did not work to provide for us. Now that we are all older, my sisters and I always try and give back to our parents. A lot of people do not understand that, but that is the way we were raised. Every culture is different, and I can only speak for my sisters and myself. But I know many others paying their eternal debts to their immigrant parents. However, this is not a burden on me and I’m sure others don’t see it as a burden either. My parents gave up so much for me; I will work all my life if I have to, to ensure I can give them whatever they need so they can live comfortably. To me, my work won’t be done, until my parents can retire back in DR without any worries.
I saw this quote on Tumblr one times that entire sums up everything I could never explain about being the child of first generations immigrants.
The pressure is great, but I will never stop proving to my parents that all their sacrifices have been worth it. It took me a while to realize that not everyone I come accross will understand this, but that’s okay. The ones who matter do understand.