As a daughter to 1st generation immigrants, I’ve always felt underrepresented. I’ve always felt like no one was going through what I was; whether it was begging my mom to pack me a sandwich instead of the daal and rice she insisted I take.
I simply refused to bring food of my heritage to my school, and the days I did, I spent hiding it in my lunchbox. Taking small and quick bites, afraid someone would comment about the smell. Sometimes my friends would ask curiously, peering into my purple dotted lunch box, “What is that?” I’d look up to different reactions, sometimes people scrunching their nose. I’d hastily reply, “Rice and Lentils”, and shut my lunchbox immediately. I even remember one time when a peer had commented, “I’m sorry but even if it tastes good, that looks so gross”. I refused to ever bring Indian food to school again and begged my mom to let me buy lunch.
I never really talked about these experiences with my parents. I took them and used them as an excuse to lash out, to yell at them for being different, and claimed they just didn’t get it. Even now, I’ve always felt that they’d never understand.
This take, I’ve realized, has been selfish. After recently completing The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, I finally fell into a world that was as similar as mine.
Through all my anger that I’ve brought on my parents, and the ways I’ve acted out, I’ve neglected to understand their own struggles. Even when I recognize them, I’ve chosen to ignore the times they’ve felt like outsiders in their own homes. I haven’t chosen to ignore them out of anger, or pure ignorance, but the truth is, it makes me sad. It makes me sad that they’ve had to deal with people who get annoyed at them for not having perfect english. And it makes me even more sad, that they have dealt with the struggles of leaving everything they’ve known- their families, their child-hood homes, familiar foods, to move to a completely different county, where they’ve had to build their world from scratch. And the biggest guilt I carry is that they did this for me, and for my children, and for the generations of our family to come.
It’s hard when all your successes, your opportunities, and your simple existence were because your parents uprooted their entire lives for you. And this translates to everything I do. Every decision I make, and every step of my life, represents what they came to America for. My successes are their successes. And no matter how much I can say that I’ve done something myself, the truth is without them, their hard work, and their perseverance, I would have grown up in the same village in Odisha.
This guilt overwhelms me sometimes. I don’t really care about failing myself, but I guess my desire to succeed, get into a good college, have my parents be proud of me, is because I truly don’t want to fail them.
I wish I knew a remedy to this guilt. But for now, I’ll do what works best for me; Ignore it, and continue about my life as if it doesn’t exist. And when I feel like the biggest failure, remind myself that apart from my parents, I will have to create my own opportunities and meaning of success, and to keep looking forward.