Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'I can only imagine now': More conversations with our immigrant parents

Photo by jmettraux/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A candid and often moving discussion that began on this site recently, in response to a fictional father-son conversation in a film, has taken on a life of its own.

Readers have been writing in with personal anecdotes of the things their immigrant parents told them - or what was left unsaid, but understood - about why they came to the United States and the sacrifices they made for their children. Some have spoken of the pressure they faced to perform well in school and life; others have shared memories like their parents being "the first to rise in the morning before the sun came up and the last to turn off the lights at the end of the day."

The most recent anecdote to come in is this mini-essay from reader Danny Gonzales, which gets at a familiar gap as parents work long hours to provide for their children, something the children don't immediately understand:

My father moved to California when he was 18. Has been working at the same company for over 39 years. Raised a family of five along with my mother. My parents didn't finish high school in Mexico, yet they were demanding when it came to school. So demanding, that all five of my sisters and brothers finished our education at private universities with scholarships, not having to leave a burden on our parents financially.

My father worked overtime for more than 25 years, always sacrificed what he wanted for the better of the family. I remember wanting to talk to him, share with him what I had accomplished at school, extra curricular activities, and him telling me "Que bueno mijo."  For me it was frustrating.

I wanted my father to be there at my award ceremonies, at my games, and I felt lonely inside, even confused as to what I was doing wrong for my parents not to come and support me more.

I guess growing up, I never really understood the sacrifices they made. I can only imagine now, understand what they sacrificed. Now I have conversations with my parents and I see what they faced. Uncertainty, navigating a new culture, compromising old values and negotiating new ones in a new country.

The post that kicked off the conversation featured a scene from the Oscar-nominated film "A Better Life," in which the protagonist, an undocumented immigrant gardener played by actor Demián Bichir, tells his teenage son:
“You are the most important thing in this world to me, mijo. I wanted you to be able to be anything you wanted to be. That would make me feel worthy, if you became somebody.”

Can you relate? If so, feel free to post your own story below.