I was Their American Dream is a great title – like insanely great. I never thought of immigrants’ children in that way until now. But it’s true that we are our parents’ dreams.
Every immigrant has their own views of America and what it stood for. Malaka’s parents came to America to either avoid civil unrest (her mom) or because they had romantic ideas about America (her dad). My dad saw America as a place to make his own way, without being thwarted by nepotism and bribes.
America is the land of opportunity. And while that opportunity looks different to everyone, there seem to be universal experiences to relate to. Her childhood was very different from mine; she had many family members in the US while almost all mine were in India. But she also experienced a lot that was familiar to me:
- Mom left a cushy life back home for an American life where she actually had to work.
- Supporting family back home.
- Kids that weren’t too American who hopefully would not marry American.
- Having almost no representation in the media or popular culture.
- Wanting to eat the convenience foods advertised on TV (Rice-a-Roni for her, Swanson TV Dinners for me).
- Going back regularly, at least to one of her home nations.
- White people’s lives & culture being kinda mysterious & intriguing – was it as good as the lives of the white folks on TV?
- Pressure for good grades.
- A general list of Acceptable Jobs.
But she had one big difference that I’m jealous about: she went to high school with a LOT of kids of various ethnic backgrounds. That’s something I missed out on because I went to Catholic school for most of my compulsory education starting in 4th grade.
In Catholic grammar school, I was the only person of color except for fifth grade when an (East) Asian American kid whose name I can’t remember. In high school there were black and Latinx kids (almost none in my classes :/) but no other Asians that I can think of.
Malaka on the other hand seemed to have Indian, Pakistani, Portuguese, Filipino, Taiwanese, and Mexican kids at Cerritos High. She had so little experience with White People that university was when she started learning about them. I had almost all white friends once I started Catholic school.
However there’s another big difference between us: she was aware of being a minority surrounded by white folks. I was generally clueless and wouldn’t even notice when I was the only POC somewhere (this is no longer the case for me). I wonder if being roughly 10 years younger made more of a difference, or if it was because her family was acutely aware of it themselves. (My fam, otoh, socialized almost exclusively with other Indians.)
Even with all our differences, there are so many common strains in our immigrant experience. It’s comforting to know that other people have thought or felt the same about many things.
If you’re a child of immigrants, you need to read I was Their American Dream. It doesn’t matter what your background is because something will resonate with you – more likely quite a few things. Hopefully this will give me a nice kick in the rear to get my own experience finished & out there.