Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ballad of the Immigrant Parent

There's a widely held stereo type that Asian parents push their children the hardest.
I'd like to say that probably all immigrant parents push their children the hardest.
For the child of an immigrant, every academic mistake, rest assured, comes with a healthy dose of guilt.
That dose of guilt is usually to the tune of "Do you know how hard I WORKED to get here? You have NO right to fuck up."
Or so. I'm paraphrasing.


My dad immigrated to the United States in the 1970's from Puerto Rico.
Last night, after recounting the horror that was my first semester grades in Law School, my dad gave me that healthy dose of "get your shit together."
If your parents are immigrants or have high expectations, you've probably heard this one too:

Lauren,
I don't know why you don't try harder.
Let me tell you;
My grandfather, he could no read.
My grandmother; she could no read.
My grandfather--he had to teach himself when he was fifty.
He only had second grade education and he had to teach himself to read so he could teach me to read.
You know why he had to teach me to read?
Because my parents could no afford for me to live with them.
So I had to move two blocks away to my grandfather house.
That's how poor we were in Puerto Rico, Lauren.

And your grandmother & grandfather--they no went to college till they were forty.
I could no go to college; that's why I had to join the army.
I no came to United States for me; I came for you.
I came because I no want my kids to stand in line at Salvation Army to get shoes;
I want to be able to buy shoes for my son, my daughter.

& everytime, we're supposed to get better.
My grand parents worked hard to be better than their parents,
and my parents worked hard to be better than them,
I worked hard.
& all so that you could be so much better.
Don't you want your kids to be even better?

My grandfather worked everyday.
Got up everyday at four in the morning and WALKED, he walked to work, Lauren.
& him & my grandmother had to save up money to buy that ONE book to teach them to read so I can learn.
You could no be in law school if they had not suffered and sacrificed for that money just to buy that one book.

If you throw away this opportunity; such a good opportunity--you will have the whole world at your finger tips, you can do whatever you want after this--be whoever you want.
If you throw away this opportunity, Lauren, then all that hard work of my grandfather & grandmother is in vain.
It's wasted because you no appreciate all that was done to get you HERE.

See, I no understand this mentality.
What you gonna do with a Bachelor's degree in English?
You gonna' be bartender? Work in coffee shop?
Wasted.
You too smart, too good for that.
But you lazy. Always no appreciate struggle of my family.

No appreciate opportunity.

When you were little girl; that's when I went to college.
& I was working, and trying to be a husband, and trying to be a dad.
But I went.
And it was HARD.
But I went so you can be whatever you want to be.
I went so you no have to work while in school like I did.
So you no have to join Army to feed yourself & family like I did.
Did you ever have to harvest plantain in the summer? Or cut down sugar cane?
I did.

& I did that so you can go to school;
Such a smart and pretty girl,
So much potential.
Wasted.

You need to see where you are & what you did to get here.
& when I say what you did; I no mean you finish college & take LSAT.
I mean you need to think about your mom & I, and the people we came from.
You need to see ALL THE WORK that got you here.
& you need to remember all the time.

When you think about taking nap & not doing work for school,
you need to think about it.
When you think about going shopping or looking at boys and no have reading done for next class, you need to remember it.
Trust me, make less stupid decisions if you remember all that happened for you to be here.

Wasting opportunities.
I no understand.
& if it gets too hard & you think you want to quit,
you just remember,
your brother had ADD & nobody knew.
He had hard time in school & had no medication for sickness.
No know why he had hard time in school.
But he never said, "it's too hard, I quit."

That's how you need to be.
You need to think about your brother & how disappointed he'd be.
He would have given ANYTHING to be smart like you.
You never have to study, you never have to do anything; just smart.
& now go to law school & no like because it's work.

Wasting smartness.

I no understand.


------

My dad's accent is actually all that bad, but I felt it helped drive my point across.

& also, that double dose of "get your shit together" sometimes is what I really need.
There's nothing like a healthy dose of guilt and disappointment to make you want to do better.

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