One of the reasons I like Toronto is that I meet people with different cultural backgrounds. I enjoy getting to know and having conversations with people about their life experiences; particularly, when they or their parents grew up in different countries.
Listening to people’s life experiences makes me think of the difficulty of migration. As you may know, Immigration is not an easy experience. Immigration adds an extra layer to one’s life. Not everyone is able to migrate and transplant into another culture/country. It is not a ‘cup of tea’ for many. People choose to migrate for many reasons such as social, political, educational and economical reasons. It is said Immigration is like Divorce; it is as difficult as Divorce. It is an experience of ‘loss’ and ‘letting go of’ something that once was precious to one! As a friend said (see my previous blog), it is like having ‘two chairs’ and ‘sitting in the middle of two chairs’ to keep them close…
Migration is expected to be difficult particularly in the first few years. It takes time and energy to learn to blend the two cultures and learn about their similarities and differences and come to terms with the new reality. It needs to be taken into consideration that sometimes the presence of some unexpected social barriers may prevent people from reconciling with the host culture and this will impact the way people make sense of their decisions to immigrate.
After having conversations with my friends and learning about their stories, I concluded this: “what happens in the family usually affects everyone in the family”. It is not easy for the second – generation immigrants to define themselves culturally, when their parents struggle to define their cultural identity. It is painful to grow up in a family when their parents experience unresolved dilemma around their decisions to migration. To form the cultural identity, it is important that the second-generation immigrants learn about their parents’ stories of struggle, pain and sacrifice and about why their parents decided to leave and move into another country. Not telling and retelling the stories that led to migration and keeping the second-generation uninformed may cause them to misunderstand their parents’ intentions and hopes for migration. It is tough for the second-generation immigrants to figure out, make sense and integrate into the two cultures without any support and guidance from their family. It doesn’t mean it is not doable but it is very hard to shed light on cultural differences without sufficient support and guidance.
As we may know, parents’ difficulties in reconciling with the host culture may impact their ability to parent and compromises their ability to connect with their children. Children of the first generation immigrants may feel as outsiders, they may feel isolated and different from others and they experience somehow similar emotions as their parents did when migrated!
As it is said, parental and marital problems are transferred to children and no matter what a family experiences as problems, when they are not resolve, its impact on the next generation is unavoidable. We have to remember that one reason that the first generation immigrants decide to leave their own countries is to make a better life for their children. When they encounter difficulties in resolving their cultural differences, It will be very hard to achieve their original goal -which is providing a better life for their children.
I believe that conflicts, differences and disintegration are inevitable and are part of life. I see them as venues to bring new possibilities to life and make life much richer. Differences in cultures, opinions, views and philosophies allow people to view, examine and review their beliefs and expand their understanding of life and their social cultural horizon. However, difficulty in dissolving problems doesn’t allow people to be exposed to new ways of thinking and take numerous opportunities away from them. It also deprives individuals and families from having a broader perspective in life and from fulfilling their hopes and dreams.
To allow a new identify to form/shape, it is essential to think creatively and make peace with both cultures. It is important to consult with others and learn ways of coming to terms with cultural differences. It is essential to allow oneself to view cultural differences in a more enriching reconciliatory way. It is essential to take this step as a foundation for the next generation to feel connected with both cultures and cherish what each culture can offer to them.
When stories of struggle, disconnection, and sacrifice are told and shared with the second generation, both generations- first and second- will be able to make sense of their life stories and their cultural differences. They will be able to connect with one another and shape their cultural identity. It is important to be open about the tremendous difficulties that come with immigration. It is time to invite the next generation to listen to stories of the first generation immigrants. It is crucial to assist the next generation to develop more appreciation for their parents who took risks and suffered in order to transplant their family in a new country. This will not happen if the first generation immigrants don’t decide to openly share their joy and pain of migration with their children!
This way of thinking requires openness and support. If you know anyone who might get benefits from this type of conversation, please feel free to pass on my info: www. taherehbarati.com