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First-Generation American Guilt and Pressure


Jun. 11 2018, Published 6:08 a.m. ET

A few years ago while reading a post from Humans of New York (aka HONY) I came across this one which always spoke on my experience as a first-generation American:

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Post from HONY


“There’s a lot of pressure being the child of immigrants.” “Why’s that?” “My mother is Thai, my father is from Chile. They met while working at a restaurant. There’s a knowledge among first generation immigrants– that they aren’t going to be the ones to achieve the American Dream. They have to work hard and struggle so that their children will have a shot at it. So they educate their children and pass the Dream along to them. And now I have an obligation to make more fucking money than them, to live the American Dream, to validate all the risks they took and everything they went through. And that’s a heavy burden.”

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I read and re-read this post countless times. I shared it with my friends on Facebook. I can’t remember my caption but I was deeply enthralled, because someone finally put all of my feelings and emotions, not only into words, but into a photograph. Someone who felt exactly what I felt was photographed at the moment during these thoughts. I may be reading too much into it but as a born and raised New Yorker, the scaffolding above the subject perfectly encapsulates the pressures coming from all around. In a city like New York where competition is probably the fiercest compared to the rest of the U.S., the pressure can really weigh down on your very own being.

A whisper article posted images along with “confessions” of first-generation Americans and immigrants.

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This is one of the most honest posts because as a first-generation American, you are not only expected to be something but also to be someone. You are under the microscope for everyone to judge your life and failures based on opportunities you were born with. Not only are you expected to lift you and your family from poverty, but you are also expected to make a name for yourself. Be The One. As a first-generation American, you have to raise up your family while simultaneously raising yourself.

To throw in some relatable lyrics by Bronx born Cardi B: The pressure on your shoulders feel like boulders/When you gotta make sure that everybody straight

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Please help.

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And it isn’t only family that expects 200% performance. It’s also strangers. The majority of strangers who may look down on you tend to be first-generation immigrants who feel like you could be and should be doing more with your life. You have to please absolutely everyone and from that may arise a fear of failure so severe that you put all of your out-of-the-norm ideas in the backburner in favor of a more practical life.

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But your parents’ dreams and successes still give you that itch in the back of your mind that you can do anything you set out for. You don’t want that practical life. It’s a strange paradox, being a first-generation American. The imperfect balance of dreamer/doer. The perfect imbalance of guilt/ambition.

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As every person living two cultures quotes:

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Still true.

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As first-generation Americans, you have to learn to pick yourself up in the best way you can figure out to. Your experiences are unique and while you’re not properly represented in the media and it may seem like you are alone, you are not alone. You are like the middle child of America. Not everyone is going to understand you and some people may criticize your choices, decisions and actions, but at the end of the day, it’s your life. Take care of yourself first. Do what makes you feel alive. Our time on this Earth is limited. The people who love you want to see you happy. The outsiders who criticize your life don’t care or matter.

Keep your head up. Keep your doubts low.

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