Growing up as a Child of Immigrants: The Burden of Success

As a first-generation Canadian, I grew up always hearing about the sufferings and sacrifices my parents endured when they first immigrated. My mother came to Canada when she was 16, only knowing a handful of English words before being thrown into high school with two years left to catch up and graduate with the rest of her class. Even with such daunting circumstances, she excelled. My mother used to always tell me about her days spent at the library listening to music from a Walkman and regularly bringing only one book around with her: an English-Chinese dictionary. This very same book sits on the bookshelf of my childhood bedroom right now, along with her other worn-out books from over four decades ago; many missing their front covers and almost all with pencil markings scattered throughout. After graduating high school with her class, my mom got accepted into (at the time) one of the top universities in Canada for engineering. In the ‘80s, she was one of the three women in the university’s engineering program and part of the 14% of women engineering students of Canada.

While I admire my parents immensely for enduring hardships unimaginable to me, I grew up struggling a lot as a child with parents as immigrants. I’m sure most, if not all, children of immigrants feel the pressure to become nothing short of exceptional. The day I was born with a Canadian passport already marked my existence as a privilege.

For anyone else who has immigrant parents like mine, we all know the feeling of a hovering pressure that invades every decision we make. Besides already having a cultural identity crisis, children of immigrants usually feel a lot more pressure than their peers. Honestly, it’s exhausting. Often, it’s not only pressure to succeed in academics, but within every other aspect of our lives too. The deep internalization to please others but also somehow still feeling like what we do is never quite enough. The mindset to bring honour to the family by succeeding on a path our parents worked so tirelessly to pave for us. The guilty feeling that lingers when we're trying to take a moment of relaxation and crave doing nothing. The way we keep our mental health struggles under wraps because we’re ashamed for feeling this way when our parents have already done so much to ensure our happiness. They came to Canada for their children after all, how could we let them regret it? Failure was, and still, isn’t an option. 

We always push so hard to be successful and often push past the limits we don’t even realize we have. Yet now, even though our parents came to a new country in hopes of a better life for us, it’s our turn to return the favour and make a better life with them. Make sure your parents know you’re thankful for all they’ve had to sacrifice. I hope we all realize that there are too many good things in life to have the guilt weigh us down.