My parents came to Canada as refugees over 20 years ago with my siblings. I was born in Canada so I can only imagine what it would have been like for them to have to learn a new language and adjust to the ways of the western world.
Having immigrant parents growing up in a predominantly Caucasian city gave me an entirely different childhood than my peers. There was a lot of embarrassment, which actually isn’t uncommon as most teens feel embarrassed of their parents for one reason or another. The food I ate and brought to school was different, the language I spoke was different, the way I dressed was different, the way I was supposed to conduct myself in public was different, the rules I had to follow were different..it was all different. My parents taught me many things, but these 5 things really stuck:
(1) They Taught Me Respect
My parents were huge on respect, I mean huge. They watched me like a hawk and if ever I was out of line they were sure to correct me.
When we attended a party, church event or anything where others would be around I had to greet everybody. I was forced into conversations I didn’t want to have and say hello to people I didn’t like, I hated it! However, this taught me just because you don’t like someone or if someone is being rude to you it doesn’t mean you stoop to their level, you continue respecting them even though it pangs you.
Small acts of respect was drilled into my brain; giving up my seat to the elderly or disabled, holding the door for others, minding my manners, holding my tongue when I had smart-ass remarks, picking up trash even if it wasn’t mine, respecting others’ possessions or property, offering company something to eat or drink..and many other things.
It’s not to say only immigrants teach respect as parents but you can’t deny that parents from different cultures are definitely more on top of their kids than their Caucasian counterparts, at least from my personal experience it’s always been this way.
(2) Prepare For Your Future
Before moving my parents owned their own business, had hired help to maintain their house and mind my siblings while they worked. Once they came here, one of my sisters questioned my parents where the maids were, to which they responded “you are the maid”, I can only assume it was a sad realization for my siblings.
Canada had a totally different economic system but my parents soon learned how it worked and started owning homes and flipping them a while still working regular 9-5 jobs. I don’t remember too much about their finances since they kept their finances private, another thing they taught me which I value. But from what I do know they were big on saving and never getting into debt or staying in debt for too long. They taught us to think ahead, even though tomorrow may not be guaranteed it would be foolish to not prepare for it.
My parents were also very frugal; collecting coupons, shopping at second hand stores, going to garage sales, scouring the classified ads and looking through every flyer to see where they could score a good deal. This was yet another thing I found absolutely embarrassing, ironically now I find myself doing the exact same thing.
(3) Don’t Be Afraid To Stand Out
On top of being a visible minority my parents are extremely religious. If we dined out at restaurants we prayed out loud in our native tongue. As a kid that was absolutely torture, as an adult I could give two shits who looks at me.
My parents weren’t afraid to be who they were, they embraced their culture, they blasted their music loud and they connected with others because of their differences. My mother would talk to anyone about anything despite how broken her English was, she didn’t care. When my friends would come over they’d comment on how nice my house was and how sweet my parents were- I don’t think I ever had a friend who shared my embarrassment that I had for my parents, at most they’d maybe playfully laugh at had they had to pray before eating but they happily complied. I definitely admire my parents for being proud of who they are and not letting being a minority become a negative thing.
(4) Pick Your Relationships Wisely
Who you choose to associate with or call friend says a lot, same goes with who you choose to spend the rest of your life with. From what I can remember my parents always had positive influences in their lives. If someone turned out to be not so good they were quick to distance themselves. As a teenager my main concern at one point was popularity and not so much about having quality relationships but as an adult I’ve started to incorporate this mentality into my life.
My parents were very big on appearances and reputation, if you hung around someone that was troubled and looked trouble then one could only assume you were troubled as well. I remember bringing home a boy who had long hair that covered his eyes (it was the year of the emo), my parents opened their doors to him made him feel welcomed but as soon as the visit was over my parents had it in for me. THAT’S who I wanted to date? Someone who covers their face, mumbles responses and looks like they should be on a suicide watch? Clearly my parents didn’t approve. To their content he later dumped me because we were “too different”, looking back I laugh–what the hell was I thinking.
So not only did they teach me to find quality people but to be aware of their intentions; to watch how they treat others, how they handle themselves, etc. My mother always had a keen sense for people and it would drive me up the wall when she’d tell me someone wasn’t a real friend to only have it become true. Now in my mid-20’s it’s a quality I appreciate and believe I have finally obtained. My bullshit meter is now functional mom, thanks.
(5) Have Some Gratitude
My parents never forgot to remind us how fortunate we were to live in a first world country. We had easy access to water and electricity, and were fortunate enough to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nothing was ever wasted at home; meals were kept as leftovers, clothes or things we no longer needed would be sold, passed down or donated. Education was also viewed as a privilege. These things were all luxuries compared to other parts of the world and we were never to take them for granted.
As a mother I find myself continually telling my kids how fortunate they are, that in other parts of the world children their age are put to work and some don’t even have parents or food to eat the entire day. The lesson on gratitude really stuck, and I can only hope it will too for my children.
Growing up with parents as immigrants was challenging but looking back I admire the challenges that came with it. I’m thankful for their sacrifices and the hardships they went through in order for my siblings and I to live in this beautiful country. So if you have immigrant parents I understand the pain of being in two different worlds but the more you embrace your roots the easier it becomes, I promise.