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So you're a millennial, and you're also the child of an immigrant in the USA. Welcome.
Warning: some of the language I use is intended as comedic sarcasm. I will try to refrain and limit that as much as possible, but no promises cause we're all here to have fun and maybe learn something (but more to have fun).
Why is this a topic?
Before I get into the specifics, I quickly want to tell you why I'm discussing this topic. The reason is simple, I feel that the voice of individuals who are identified as first generation Americans (and more specifically ones who are millennials) isn't heard of or represented anywhere. If I am wrong, then please send me some links to check out! (This part contains no sarcasm.)
Who are first generation American millennials?
First generation Americans are people who were born (or raised) in the U.S. and raised by immigrant parents (legal status doesn't matter but it does influence your upbringing).
Millennials are people born between 1981 and 1995.
Whether you identify with any of these two societal roles, it is what the general consensus defines us as, and yes I said "us" because I am a part of the team (hayyyy).
What's so special about us?
No, this isn't the part where we pat ourselves on the back and hug ourselves. This is the part where we take a look at the special circumstances we were born into and have to navigate through in our lives.
Rather, we are special because of the opportunity and responsibility we were born into. This opportunity to grow and succeed in a country where our chances of survival are higher than the chances of us thriving in our parent's home country. Our parents made a choice FOR us and because of that we are now responsible to fulfill that opportunity, or not.
Opportunity and Responsibility
A lot of us have and will struggle because of the responsibility to take care of our parents, family, and ourselves.
The biggest struggle in responsibility is deciding whether you want to do something that fulfills you (a.k.a. your passion) and risk financial stability, or pursue the most financially stable career and risk self-fulfillment.
Of course, not all of us will even pursue either of those for many reasons, but they are the ones with the biggest payoff.
Your parents lack higher education in their home country and they come to the U.S. and give birth to you. Your parents expect you to go to public school, get a decent education, go to a good college, and a make a notable career out of it.
This is probably the most common case you'll hear or see in our community, and there are many flaws in it.
- Your parents never went to college, so how do they expect to guide you through it? They don't, they expect you to learn how to weave through the system on your own.
- If you come from poverty, or if your parents can't fund your college tuition, it's usually up to you to figure that out as well.
- You're told you can do and become anything, there is no limit to your success, as long as you become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer.
Now, I'm not saying you should blame your parents for [setting] these high expectations on you, or that they won't be able to help you at all. In fact, we are very grateful for the sacrifice our parents made (as they never fail to remind us) and we also work harder because of it, which in turn helps us out in life.
What I am saying, is that this is one of the disadvantages of being a first generation American. The fact that you might have to guide yourself, find your own resources, and network on your own without any help from your parents, is a big task.
Leadership Over Guidance
The role of the first generation American is that of a leader. Sure, you have to obey your parents and follow their rules, but they also expect you to eventually lead the family. Lead the family out of poverty, lead the family into a safer area, lead the family into a home and property—lead the family into an easier survival.
Being the leader in your family also means being the student and absorbing as much information about the world to make the best and wisest decisions. It's a lot harder when your family hasn't already been navigating through this new country for a long time.
This is also no excuse, you can be the first of your kind and your parents CAN find a better life for you when you get here, but that all depends on your parents. If your parents are business savvy and also seek betterment of their lives by learning English and buying property then you have a better chance at following along. There are many stories of parents who work to the bone and achieve a lot of success while moving here, whether they did it alone or had help, it all matters.
Of course, what do you do when your parents aren't educated enough, aren't as adept to learning English, or aren't fully understanding of the systems they live in? Well, you gotta learn it on your own.
To Be or Not to Be
Although we are told we can be whatever we want to be, there is most often a transparency of expectations behind that statement. You can be whatever you want to be, but preferably...
This idea that you can be whatever you want to be didn't quite workout for me. My parents expected me to be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. They expected and hoped I would lean this way and because of that I found myself saying I wanted these careers. There comes a day when you might realize that you don't actually want any of those; maybe you want to be an artist, a writer, a poet. None of those are viable options when you're a first generation American because of the financial responsibility you owe your family one day.
Family: A Double Edged Sword
Immigrant parents will have multiple children because historically this increases chances of survival. Having many siblings can sometimes work for the best, for example if you're all equally driven, hardworking, and successful, then of course it's all merry for the family. Having many siblings sometimes doesn't work, for example if one is carrying all the responsibilities while the others slack and aren't as driven or hardworking—this tends to add to the load of responsibility.
Regardless of your where you come from, and what your circumstances are, one thing that will guide you and help the success of your new American life is the act of transparency.
One example of the best transparency is that of immigrant Asian families. Asian parents teach their children discipline and come off as very strict (with school grades and extracurriculars). Asian parents often tell their children what is expected and the only viable options are ones that will make more money and keep the family strong. The ideology of limiting your children's opportunities and selecting their paths for them is also a double edged sword. Sure, your kids will have good grades, go to good colleges, and obtain good careers, but their happiness is usually the very least of the concern. Sacrificing your children's happiness for their own wellbeing as well as the family's is not an easy one but one that tends to pay off more often than not.
When sacrificing your children's happiness doesn't pay off is when they rebel, when they break away from the family, or when they end up with serious psychological or emotional problems due to their discontent with their lives.
This is not an ideology that was instilled in my head. Instead, my parents were hopeful, not strict. My mom rewarded my good behavior and good grades and reminded me that it made her happy. The only thing that she failed at was being more transparent about our family's income, about our struggles, about our roles in society and how we needed to better ourselves. I was constantly reminded of the good options I had, but not pressured to follow one single path.
Freedom was another double edged sword. I remember my teachers and family would say I could become whatever I wanted and I believed it (still do), but a lot of times failed to remind me that I had a role to fulfill. I was to help take care of my parents one day, that I couldn't rely on my parents past a certain point, and that I wasn't as privileged as other children. This lack of insight meant I could be anything, and so I leaned towards the arts.
This small choice (which was more of a passion and preference) meant a lot to my family. It's a risk to be an artist (in any type or form of it) because the end results are unknown and there is not a direct structure or path to it, it seems to be based off luck and talent. Still, my mom continued to cheer me on but remind me that I had other options and that those would make her happy. It felt like a selfish choice, to choose my own happiness. It was a constant struggle because as I mentioned before, we did not have all the means to be so risky with our income.
I still firmly believe that you can do what makes you happy, with a lot of hard work, dedication, and practice—you will succeed.
Sprinkle in some millennial and...
You make an even bigger complicated mess. Being a millennial adds another consequence to your life. Being a millennial means you come from a time where there was prosperity in the economy, global warming wasn't really a thing yet, and we weren't involved in a war against terrorism or oil. We often get teased for being so sensitive and for getting rewarded for minor accomplishments because it was good for us at the time. Now, we are scolded for our shortcomings and for being babied too much.
Being a millennial was great until the economy crashed and all of a sudden your options for survival and livelihood were radically changed. People were losing their jobs and homes left and right, prices on goods went up, and living on your own was not much of an option anymore.
Every generation has its struggle for sure, but the millennial generation has had to switch gears while nearing their adulthood despite being promised at a young age that everything would be a-okay! Of course, being young also means we can adapt easier and find ways to survive and find new opportunities.
The difference between any other millennial, and a first generation American millennial is that one has a duty to fulfill as a provider for the family, and the other one might still be able to survive off their parent's support and do what they want for themselves. First generation American millennials have to be more conscientious of their decisions and the impact it has on their family's livelihood, as well as their own.
Regardless of your circumstances, it is your life and it is up to you to decide and learn what's best for you. My suggestion is that you sit down and come to terms with the role you were given upon birth and figure out who you want to please. In the end everyone is always looking out for themselves, it's called survival. Who is your motivation? What are you willing to do for the one life you get? Who are you looking out for? Are you willing to take a risk? You can't please everyone, does that make you selfish? It's all up to you but you're not alone.
I hope this helps anyone who feels alone, or who is now coming to an understanding about their life or their role in society. I know I didn't talk too much about culture and race, but I did it so that it could mean something more universal.
For a more cultural aspect to this, check out this great TED talk