It's that time of year where commencement ceremonies and graduation celebrations are aplenty. I know that a lot of Fly readers are college students, some of whom are graduating this year, so I wanted to say congratulations!!
But I also wanted to send a special congratulations to the first generation college graduates of immigrant parents (and to your parents as well). This one is for you.
On Saturday I attended a graduation party for the daughter (let's call her Flavia) of some very close family friends. Like my mom, Flavia's parents are Brazilian, and they have been friends with my mother since coming to this country. I have known them all my life, so we consider them family.
As any celebration, there was a moment for speeches. Flavia and her parents stood by the DJ booth to say they're thank yous; and of course Flavia's parents were expressing their pride and joy of their soon to be doctor daughter.
I could not stop the tears from welling up and rolling down my cheeks.
I was so happy and very proud of Flavia, her accomplishment is tremendous. But a big sum of my tears were for her parents.
I'm going to generalize here but I don't care — immigrants work hard.
They leave everything they know: family, friends, language, culture, food, and environment for a country that may offer them a chance to fully actualize their hopes and dreams. Without a guarantee of anything, not even the guarantee of being able to go back home, they leave willingly for the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
Barely knowing the language or anyone to help, many, like my mother and Flavia's parents, come here and work really hard. They do work that no one wants to do while often dealing with disrespectful people who are not very welcoming to the immigrant population.
Over time, they realize that achieving the American Dream is a little more complicated than what they had imagined. So they set aside their dreams and function in pure survival mode to support themselves here in addition to frequently sending financial support back home. (Sometimes to family members who are insensitive and who don't understand the struggle one is facing in the U.S.)
Dealing with the basic challenges that come in life, many are dealing with them on their own without the support of family or friends. Imagine how it was before Skype or Facebook.
Then children come.
Although some of these immigrants didn't get their chance to explore the path to education or the career of their dreams, they do everything they can to make sure their children will be able to. Their new hope is that their children won't suffer or experience the difficulties (like discrimination, loneliness, and sometimes poverty) they faced in coming to this country.
As they sacrificed the life they knew to follow their own dreams, they now work hard and sacrifice again for the children who become their dreams.
As I watched the emotion bubbling up in Flavia's parents I knew where it was all coming from. These parents had finally achieved their dream — through their daughter.
I know how hard they worked. I know what they had been through. Having been in Flavia's shoes some years back I know what it means to have that piece of paper; I know that WE worked hard for this moment.
So, again, this is a special shout out to all the graduates who are an extension of their parents' dreams. Know that what you have accomplished is a special gift to yourself but also a beautiful reward to the people who have sacrificed so much to get you there. Congratulations to you and your parents, especially the parents who left everything they knew to help you become who you are. Cheers.
Disclaimer: Please note that some of these statemens are generalizations. I hope we all understand that this does not reflect the entire immigrant experience, which is indeed diverse and varied as we are individuals.