Last week, I was helping my mother go through some business documents at her store when her friend dropped by to visit.
“And what is your daughter doing here?”
“She’s helping me sort through these documents, make phone calls, write letters, and fill out forms.”
“What a great daughter!”
“Oh it’s nothing. She’s been doing this for us ever since she was in 2nd grade!”
What my mother said is true. When we first immigrated to the U.S., my parents painstakingly studied books, listened to cassette tapes, and even took night classes to learn English. But how could they properly learn while working 80 hours a week in an attempt to set up a new life in a new country (to which they had arrived with literally no money in their possession)…all while raising two young children?
My sister and I picked up our second language without much difficulty, and I, as the older daughter, quickly assumed the role of the translator.
I resented this while growing up, and I am ashamed to say that I still resent it at times. Not only was I required to decipher every letter that arrived at our address, I had to make phone calls, write letters, and intercede on my parents’ behalf. I have done this since elementary school.
Can you imagine being the only kid whose parents never attended parent-teacher conferences, and having to explain to your teachers that your parents can not visit because they do not speak English? (And no, I was not allowed to attend and translate on behalf of my parents.)
How about getting in heated debates with government agencies at the age of 8?
Even something as trivial as going out for dinner had the potential to become an embarrassing experience, because you just knew that your father (who always insisted on placing the order) will screw it up somehow…
The story is typical of many immigrant families. I know that I am not alone, and I am sure I had it a lot better than others.
However, I can’t deny that these circumstances force a child grow up a lot faster.
There were so many times during the course of my childhood where I could not let go and just have fun. Be a CHILD. How could I, when I had to write that letter to the New York State Department of Labor, call the phone company to ask why we had been charged an extra $30 this month, and translate for my parents a permission slip that the school had sent home with me earlier that day?
Even now, I hate the fact that my parents continue to call on me when I have my own “adult” problems to deal with.
Listening to my mother have the above conversation with her friend, my mind flashed back to bitter memories. To being forced to solve problems that should’ve rested on my parents’ shoulders. To losing time, to becoming so careworn at such a young age.
To being called in to do even more work just days after the most painful loss of my life.
“Oh it’s nothing. She’s been doing this for us ever since she was in 2nd grade!” my mother proudly exclaimed.
Nothing? NOTHING? How can you say that it’s NOTHING when —
It was then that I heard the underlying tone of my mother’s voice.
This hurts her more than it has hurt, or will ever hurt me.
Are you the children of immigrants? If so, did you have similar experiences?