A confused product of multiple environments

Recently I’ve taken a closer look at the unavoidable awkwardness that is felt by a large group of people all over the world, which I’m a part of. What group is that, you ask? Immigrant kids. We have parents who are foreign to a fault, probably the first to ever leave whatever “homeland” they hail from. Some are lucky enough to have learned their parents native language. Others of us, well *sigh* definitely were passed over for that one.

The uniting factor here is that by and large, our closest connection to the culture our parents subscribe to, is our parents. In a lot of cases, like my own, they’re really the only available person to go to when you feel something heritage-y is missing from your understanding. And just the basic parameters of the situation make that immigrant parental role so much more important:

  • You’re in a country foreign to what they consider home.
  • They’re keen on upholding cultures and traditions they’re accustomed to.
  • They want you to grow up the same way they did, with the same experiences, boundaries, rules, and expectations, both inside and outside of the home.

This is where things get sticky.

 Can you really cultivate a strictly “Home”-bred child in a “Foreign” environment? I think not. Whether your family is from Africa, Asia, South America, or what have you, raising them in a Westernized place (i.e. the U.S. or Europe) is a whole different ballgame. Ever heard the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”?

What if that village isn’t the one you want raising your kids?

Moving to the U.S. for my family put numerous cultural strains on my upbringing and my family climate, in my eyes. My parents speak Chichewa. I don’t. I was born in Malawi, and have citizenship (and a foreign passport to boot). My younger sisters don’t. We have literally HUNDREDS of cousins across southern Africa, who both overtly and subliminaly condescend to my sisters and I as “Americans”, despite the efforts my parents put in to teach us their homeland expectations. And it hurts, but what can I say:

They’re right.

Westernized kids of immigrant parents are not the same as their home-grown counterparts. We’re also not quite ever going to mesh completely with the social culture here. They’re not quite from the motherland (unless of course you’ve spent more time “home” than you have here.) and because of the exhaustive and often restrictive cultural upbringings in their Western home, they’re not quite American/European either.  Ultimately, we find ourselves in an awkward middle ground between the two; trying to acclimate ourselves to the ambient local culture without completely alienating and angering our parents. Some manage to blend between the two better than others, but ultimately we don’t fit either place.

How many times have you heard a group of Africans start harping about what they go through with their parents and talking smack to African Americans? I did it too. My college roommate and I have had a running joke for years about our African Daddies lol.

I’m sure if you ask any group of people who have foreign parents, they’ll tell you the same basic thing; there are certain things they do outside of their home to orient themselves that they would never DARE do in front of their parents or any older family relative. Because it’s not appropriate. My mother has thrown the phrase “You are an African. You are a Malawian child” into more lectures than I can count. Usually when I do something with my American friends that doesn’t sit well with her idea for what her “Malawian child” should do.

But the inevitable consequence of raising your kids in a forein country is this: that foreign country WILL influence them, no matter how much your parents don’t want it to. How can we honestly be expected to live our lives surrounded by the very opportunities you left home to give us, and not be influenced? How can we live around hundreds of people from myriad backgrounds, upbringings and households, and not even have a glimmer of envy of how the other side lives? At it’s core, the immigrant upbringing is both good and bad.

Good, because I think that with a more International perspective on life, I can see more clearly the faults of both sides, and where each can learn from the other. For instance, my parents’ is a culture much more firmly rooted in respect and discipline, something I think a lot of the “foreigners” I grew up around could use a dose of.

Bad, because of the lofty expectations. Like it or not, growing up is not the same for me and the rest of us immigrant kids as it was for my parents, and the unwavering ideals they have set for raising an “African/Asian/South American child” in a western environment are sometimes going to fall on deaf ears, just because we have a wider perspective on life than they do at times.

However, this is not just a rant. I do think the good outweighs the bad. It’s just mad awkward here in the middle lol. I love my parents, and as much as I strained under the weight of their cultural information, I think I reaped a lot of benefits from it. And like I said, I think more people could use an immigrant parent or two in their lives.

Feel free to borrow one of mine. lol.


2 Responses to “A confused product of multiple environments”

  1. WOW! That was an amazing post..as the child of immigrant parents I completely agree with every single statement. We literally are in the middle, and sometimes it sucks but then again it does give us a unique perspective on life. Thanks so much for writing this post. :)

  2. awww :) 'preciate it VB!

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