by Maitri Pamo
I was approximately the age that my daughter is now when my parents immigrated here. A toddler, I was no more aware of the bravery and hope in my parents’ decision to come than they were of the difficult roadmap their journey would delineate for our family. Our nuclear unit, bereft of extended family and burdened by a paucity of friends, struggled under the tension of parents who sought to keep their children in a familiar cultural context and our desire to acculturate into the dominant society. It was not easy. My parents did not understand the true nature of the problem and were unable to counsel or engage us meaningfully in discussion of our intergenerational conflict. The effects of the tension persist today.
Immigrant parents, particularly those with limited, marketable skill sets, often must work long hours to ensure the economic security of the family. The absence of one or both parents in the home is a stressor for children who seek stability and parental attention and involvement. The estrangement caused by this separation can lead to resentment on the part of the child who does not understand why the overworked parent is cantankerous when she or he is finally at home. The resultant feeling of emotional isolation served to blunt openness between my parents and myself. They regarded the long hours they worked as proof of their love. I viewed their absence and subsequent ill humor as proof of my burden on them. They expected to continue the strict authoritarian dynamic they had experienced between child and parent. I chafed at their expectations of complete obeisance when my emotional needs were not being met.
Despite their attempts to exert complete control at home, in the outside world, I was quickly becoming the authority. As my mastery of English progressed, surpassing their abilities, they often deferred to me as the interface between them and society. The cognitive dissonance of being the submissive child at home, but the needed spokesperson and emerging specialist in dealing with all things “gringo” outside of it was confusing. Unsettling also was observing my parents, so demanding of respect from their children, epitomizing the “mande” mindset in their dealings with others. The dichotomy clearly eroded their authority in my eyes and the resultant conflicts between us were detrimental to all. They were offended by my audacity and I exulted in my power.
How valuable it would have been to have had an intermediary, an emotional translator between parent and child. I was fortunate to have been born a self motivator, but it is plausible that many children faced with this type of conflict turn instead to less productive and possibly dangerous coping mechanisms. We as a community need to find a way to identify and support families in turmoil. Is that not the essence of being a community? We need all of us to strive and succeed. Who knows? The next Einstein could turn out to be a Garcia!
Contributor, Maitri Pamo
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.