I’m giving up the conviction that birthdays don’t matter.  Sure, they are a time of reflection, of looking back.  But to any person other than the one looking back, “looking back” doesn’t mean anything.  Other people already see you according to your last encounter with them, whereas you always live in the moment.  Therefore, looking back is normal to others–but can be stirring to you.  For others, the past is more inextricably tied to the present than it is in the point of view of the object of observance.  When I look back on a birthday, especially if I’m in places where I’ve spent previous years, I feel so much weight.  The weight isn’t a burden, but it just exists.  There’s so much life, so much love, so much happiness; I feel like I’ve lived 100 years (I’ve lived 16).  Experience is beautiful.  I apologize for the cliche, but it’s an ineffable experience.

Immigrants and Privilege


My parents came to this country with about $20 in their pockets.  As they have built their way up, it is safe to say now that I live a life of comfort and prestige, where everything I could ever want is available to me should I ask for it, where money has never been an issue.  But as someone second-generation, is it fair for me to dislike prestige?  I’m surrounded by people with mansions, with connections that get them places, with millions of resources to die for that they waste away out of indolence because we’re only human and the fact that something is given does not ensure its use–in total, luxury and the accompanying disproportionate chances at success.  My parents didn’t have to migrate, but they did in order to give me this, or as much of it as they could.  Is it fair for me not to see much fairness in that?

A few important qualities of my parents have resulted from their immigrant experiences.  For one, they always assume the worst will happen.  Not can happen, but will happen.  This is warranted, considering they have probably already seen the worst–but why make yourself miserable by thinking of an unfavorable future?  Calculating the future doesn’t make misfortune less likely.  The only difference is that when misfortune comes, you won’t have enjoyed all of your days without it.  Why should you let apprehension prevent you from enjoying the present?  I am surrounded by friends, by a culture that isn’t imbued with this excessive sense of caution, so it’s natural for me to get annoyed with my parents who do have it.  But the child of an immigrant, especially one as shielded as I am, gets torn.  I have to understand that my parents didn’t get overly cautious out of nowhere–so it should make me insensitive to scorn it.

Another quality of my parents is that they never expect life to adapt to them.  Hence, individual qualities must be altered to fit the system–the flaws are only within.  For example, I am a fairly short person, which I’m okay with.  But my parents have never told me to be happy with my height; on the contrary, they always inculcated in me the idea that tall people are most successful in life, an idea I am just now realizing is pretty unhealthy.  They have even offered me the option to get growth hormone injections (I declined).  (To their credit, they probably weren’t expecting a yes anyways.)  As lighter examples, they perceive as flaws a lot of things that other parents see as merely qualities.  You aren’t a morning person?  Picking later classes once you’re in college isn’t enough; you have to become a morning person.  You don’t have friends you relate to, nor are you a social butterfly?  It doesn’t matter what gives you pleasure; you have to become an extrovert.  Put aside your likes and dislikes, because you have to learn to like watching football and going to the Home Depot.  You have a poor sense of direction?  Too bad, because you have to develop one.  You don’t realize that you’ve faced these urges from your parents until you’re old enough to figure out on your own that different people have different skills, and that that’s okay.  Ironically, immigrants who come from cultures characterized by a fixed mindset often expect their children to adapt more than native parents do with their own kids, even if the native culture is traditionally more growth-oriented.

Finally, my parents had to work extremely hard to reach where they are now.  They have earned every penny.  But because of this, they have little sympathy for the underprivileged; because they are a success story, they don’t feel any remorse for the failure stories.  In fact, most of India shares this attitude, that poverty is an inevitable part of the social hierarchy and will always exist, so there’s no point in fighting it.  In fact, my dad has even called my sympathy a mere result of my youth and immaturity.  Since my parents succeeded without help, they don’t think other people should have help, either; they have entitled themselves to consider debt and poverty as products of nothing but personal irresponsibility.  This is where I most disagree with my parents.  It is incumbent on society to provide every new being an equal chance at success, rather than leaving potential to be unlocked based on the lottery of birth alone.  My views don’t change, but I’m still torn because I know that it’s easy for me to sympathize without having experienced any of the hardships of my parents.

I know that these qualities in my parents were also influenced by many other factors, like culture, their own parents, their own upbringing, and general staidness, but I think the immigrant experience has also had an important effect.  That said, every immigrant experience is unique.  I haven’t talked about all of these points with many other second-generation kids, but there is a chance some would relate.