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Navigating the Guilt of Being a Second-Generation Immigrant

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It took 19 years of my life to self-diagnose myself with “immigrant guilt.” This ideology is that our parents have sacrificed so much of their lives for us, that the least we can do is put aside our ambitions and desires to repay them. Whether that’s meeting their high expectations, altering my desires to fit theirs, or even becoming the perfect Pakistani-Muslim daughter for the community to compare their daughters to, I had to do it all. I wanted to. After all, I owed them.

Guilt is a strong feeling. It’s the one you have to swallow in order to make decisions for yourself, but it slowly creeps up your throat again, long after the decision has been made. I feel at fault for carrying these feelings and I often ask myself: Why did my parents move all the way here and support me in every way possible just for me to be engrossed in guilt? 

I had made up my mind in high school that I was going to graduate and move downtown for university, and when the time came to do so, my parents tried their best to be supportive. But the feeling of guilt had crept up on me again. What if I move out and something happens to them? Who is going to do my chores around the house? What if I miss out on making memories with them? I let go of every thought I had to move out and commuted for almost an hour every day. Of course, I had to make it look easy, but oftentimes, I found it difficult to enjoy my time out of the house.

Growing up, I learned very quickly the western ideology of “finding yourself,” OR moving out the second you graduate…but moving out the second you graduate high school was non-existent in my household. I was taught that you have to make sacrifices for your family, and this was one of them.

This is no fault of my parents. When they left their home, their language and their culture to a colonized and distant land, they, too, had family in mind. I find that much of the intergenerational trauma I live with is derived from ideologies they were raised on, and that’s no fault of their own. In the last two years, I’ve been grateful to get into my dream university, have the money to travel downtown for my classes and possibly study abroad in my third year. But I often ask myself:

Why do I deserve this?

My parents are still friends with the people they met in their very first apartment complex in Canada, having only their country of origin and young children in common. They still make calls to Pakistan several times a week to hear from their parents; the same routine they’ve had for the past 20 years. I wish they didn’t have to move, but if they didn’t, I wouldn’t have anything I have now. 

Many people are under the impression that their parents don’t understand them, but imagine how they feel with a cultural gap and immigrants for children. I often feel guilty for finding it difficult to naturally converse in Urdu and I wonder if my kids will ever be able to speak the language. 

I write this in hopes that someone will relate to the struggles I face. I write this in hopes that I can validate the feelings of every single person who feels this way, too. I’m forever thankful for my parents and the sacrifices they’ve made. They taught me the importance of doing what makes me happy.  My parents raised me with the importance of doing things that make me happy; I just wish they had the opportunity to be raised the same way.

Sania Ali

Ryerson '24

Sania Ali is a second-year Journalism student at Ryerson University and she currently resides in Mississauga. In the future Sania hopes to do work that makes a difference, she hopes to do investigative journalism, start a podcast one day and write lengthy articles on issues we don't talk enough about. Someday, Sania would like to be working in New York City. In her free time, she's probably rewatching her favourite shows, scrolling through TikTok or ordering sushi. Sania's super excited to be writing for Her Campus and is stoked to connect with her readers.
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