Dear First Gen,
My whole life, I have not stopped to heal.
What does it mean to heal anyway?
Every choice or decision I have made in my schooling and my career was for a reason beyond my own self-interests. I excelled in school because it was necessary for my family. I put in long hours at work because I had a reputation to uphold. I sacrificed taking several days off work despite many days feeling under the weather or overly committed.
I have been going and going, like a nonstop flight, and I have not taken time to check in with myself. Maybe I need to be making time to heal.
You may be wondering what I need to #heal from.
Well, I never took time to heal from the instruments that I was prohibited from playing. Or the birthday celebrations I didn't have. The vacations I didn't take and the summer camps I didn't attend. The “normal” childhood I missed out on.
Or how about healing from being seen as someone accepted into school or offered a job under #affirmativeaction policies rather than for my own merit? Or the countless hours I spend rewriting emails in fear that I'll come off as “another incoherent person with immigrant parents”?
It can be exhausting having to defend myself if I use an accent when saying certain words, speak to my parents in their native language, or have my credentials questioned even after putting in the work to be seen as a qualified applicant.
Individually, these instances may not leave a lasting mark. But built up over decades, being continually questioned and having to prove myself, it's possible that I need some time to heal.
It is rare for me to share this publicly. I was raised to believe that there were certain things I would not be afforded, so I had to be strategic and intentional when pursuing each and every goal in my life. It was always reinforced that nothing was going to come easy for me. I was not born into any privilege, and I would always have to work for what I wanted.
When I wrote my first blog post, I started to heal from the various #unapologetically first-gen moments I have lived. How? Other people reached out to me to let me know they went through the same things, or would share their own story with me.
After I posted “Hard Knock Life of a First Gen,” my cousin who is in high school told me that his mom took him out of trumpet class to focus on science. We spoke to my aunt about how it made him feel and she said that he can take trumpet lessons when he is older.
It is possible that it's too late for this cycle to be broken, but my cousin did not harbor any ill feelings about his mother's decision. Just like me, he understood the bigger picture that all first gens learned at a very early age.
Our families came to the United States to achieve The American Dream. But often, this constant reminder can be hard to swallow and doesn't give us the time we may need to heal those wounds of what might have been in our childhoods.
As an adult, I have been reminded of the importance of healing. Now, I make it a priority to find space and time to heal because it has helped me to recognize why I may act a certain way when something is withheld from me or when I feel “robbed” of certain moments.
For me, healing was and is necessary. I just wish I'd learned that sooner in life.
Tell me: Have you made time to heal? If so, how do you heal?
Dear First Gen,
When we were growing up, my brother and I were reminded consistently that we were expected to perform extremely well in class. One of my friends told me a story of her upbringing that may be familiar to you. When she came home from school and showed her parents her good grades, they would ask, "Did another student receive a better grade than you?" If she said yes, the next question would be, "Why are you not at the top of the class?" My friend is brilliant and skillful! But in her parents eyes, being second, third, or fourth in a huge graduating class was just not “good enough.”
Immigrant parents often have very high expectations for their children, and as First Gens, we work overtime to meet or exceed them. But there is more to it than having the desire...there are situations that sometimes derail us. It is commonly unacceptable among foreigners to acknowledge feelings of guilt, insecurity, and doubt; rather it is expected that you will overcome them and never discuss the difficulties you faced. I can attest that there is a positive side to being raised to always find solutions to each "surface" problem, but what about the inner problems?
Tell me: How have you coped with your emotions when feeling depressed or pressured?
Dear First Gen,
Have you always been told to be patient? I’m betting the answer to that question is a resounding YES!
Do you often have to tell others to have patience? Again, probably a YES!
Are you good at exercising patience? Well, that may be a different story!
Tell me: How do you exercise patience?
Dear First Gen,
Four years ago on this day--on May 20, 2012—I graduated from Hofstra University School of Law. It was the (second) best day of my life, since passing the Maryland Bar as a first-time taker was a huge triumph!
On graduation day, I reflected on a few struggles that seemed very big at the time, but were minor in hindsight. Law school taught me that nothing is guaranteed until the very moment it is to happen. My grandmother—then my last living grandparent—told me she would be attending my graduation. I was in disbelief because she had trouble getting on and off airplanes, and I did not want to put her through the trouble. As grandparents do, she said she would be there and I had no doubt about it. I was so glad I could make her proud!
I recall speaking to some of my classmates and hearing a few of their comments that I may have initially been admitted to the school based on meeting a certain criteria rather than based on my merit as a potential law student. It was disheartening, but it helped to know which students may not be the ones to interact with...ever! I did not pay attention to those comments and persevered through the toughest days and nights of my life.
Many graduates would say the life of a 1L (first year law school student), 2L (second year law school student) and 3L (third year law school student) are noticeably different, and to learn the differences as quickly as possible. DITTO!