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A Gift Guide for Immigrant Parents Who Don’t Want Anything

The holidays present a common struggle for many first- and second-generation immigrant kids: what do I get Mom and Dad for Christmas without them returning it to the store or telling me not to waste money on them? We can’t really blame our parents for being overly practical and careful with every dollar spent; after all, immigration is a grueling and expensive process – especially when you have children to provide for – and the first few years in the new country likely weren’t filled with luxuries (my parents have been thrifting since before it was cool). But what they tend to forget is that we aren’t children anymore and are making our own money. And as crazy as it sounds, we might actually want to spend some of our hard-earned money on them.


After some hits and misses, I think I’ve learned a few things about shopping for a frugal parent that my fellow first- and second-gen immigrant kids might find helpful. Here are some gift ideas that haven’t been met with an exasperated “Sayang ang pera!” (Tagalog for “Waste of money!”) from my mother.

Gift Cards

Not the most meaningful, but it’s the most practical. No immigrant parent could turn this gift down even if they wanted too. Try to buy a card that is especially useful for them – for example, a gas station gift card at the station you know they collect points at, or a specialty grocery store gift card where they can buy the ingredients not found in the international foods section at Superstore. You can simply put it in a pretty card, or take it one step further and design a card for them! No matter how old you get, your parents will love the arts and crafts you bring home. (Bonus tip: write a message to them in their native language – it’s even more amusing if you aren’t as fluent and used Google Translate).

Memory foam pillows

These are one of those things that immigrant parents consider a luxury and would never buy for themselves, but I can guarantee that once they use it, they won’t remember life before it.

Everyday Clothing

I have to specify here because I’ve personally bought my parents enough “nice” shirts and “nice” shoes to know that they’ll never wear it. I’ve come to learn that our concept of “nice” clothing is vastly different from our parents’ -to my Filipino dad, a polo shirt is basically the same thing as a tuxedo. Instead of gifting them stylish clothes you wish they’d wear, get them higher-quality versions of their casual clothing. I’ve had some luck buying my parents clothes from both Uniqlo and H&M.

Kitchen Appliances

Food is one of the few things that immigrant parents indulge in, especially food from their native country. Because take-out is expensive (as they love to remind us!), most of them spend lots of time in the kitchen doing their own cooking and recreating the flavours of their childhood. If your parents have also been using the same food processor they purchased at Zellers (RIP) during the Chrétien administration, or have started asking you how air fryers work, perhaps they’d appreciate a new kitchen gadget!

GOOGLE CHROMECAST

Warning: if you decide to buy your parents an electronic device that has buttons other than “on” and “off”, be prepared to help them install it and explain how to use it. Now, a Chromecast technically doesn’t have buttons, but it’s still a bit complicated because you have to connect it to another device, like a smartphone or a laptop. Once your parents get the hang of it, however, it’s a game changer! Chromecasts stream content directly from your smartphone or laptop to the TV, so you don’t need to rely on Netflix or YouTube for international content. Your parents can stream the news directly from their home country, or start whatever drama series their friends back home are obsessed with.

fRAMED photo of you (and your siblings)

Ask any immigrant parent why they made the sacrifice to leave home and their answer will likely be something along the lines of “I wanted a better future for my children.” They don’t seek material gifts because you are their favourite gift. :-) With that being said, a framed photo of their favourite gift (or gifts, if you have siblings) is a lovely gift, especially as you get older and aren’t home as often as they’d like.

Hopefully these gift ideas don’t earn you a scolding on Christmas morning. But whether Mom and Dad accept your gift or not, rest assured: it really is the thought that counts. Regardless if they ask you for the gift receipt, I promise they appreciated the gesture anyway!

Camille is a Communication major at Simon Fraser University. As a kid, she wanted to be like Miss Honey from Matilda and entered post-secondary with dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher. After teaching preschool for three years, she realized that she enjoyed connecting with people of all ages and decided that studying communications would open up more creative doors for her future. When she is not typing away at her MacBook, she can be found making TikToks with her cat or re-watching Mamma Mia! for the 700th time.
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