Talking about privilege hurts your pride, especially when you’re forced to face your own. It’s an uncomfortable feeling being called out for something you didn’t know you had. It’s even more unnerving when you come to terms with it by yourself, knowing that if you hadn’t, nobody might have pointed it out to you.
Following the crying I did watching Episode Two of Master of None on Netflix, a comedy-drama series following the life of 30-year-old actor Dev (played by the show’s co-creator, Aziz Ansari), I thought about the privilege I have had growing up in this country. In the second episode, Dev discusses how his entire life is the way it is because his immigrant parents, played by Aziz’s real parents, sacrificed everything to move to America.
We’ve heard the story – parents leaving the comfort of their home countries to provide their children with the opportunity to lead a life better than theirs. But if you’re a first-generation immigrant reading this, how well do you really know your parents’ story? My parents tell me stories and limericks from their childhood all the time, and I never listen. I never truly hear what they’re saying.
As I kill time on Netflix and then wonder why I haven’t started working on my paper, at this age, my father was working in cement factories trying to make a living and my mother was studying tirelessly to earn her degree. My parents are the reason I can type this story on my laptop, well-fed in a warm, beautiful, big home. I have them to thank for being able to argue about petty contemporary problems. My mother slaves herself over making the most incredible Pakistani food in the galaxy and I have the audacity to buy dinner from HUB on the way home. My father works all day to support our family, just so I can come home from university and tell him that I’m too tired to help him in the yard. That’s messed up. It’s really difficult to look in the mirror and say, “I have it easy.”
I don’t mean to say that I don’t have my own problems as a student growing up in this age, but I definitely do take my good health, my education, and the opportunities I have for granted. For that reason, I would argue that there is a kind of privilege existing there. Maybe the reason it isn’t referred to as such is because people of color are already generally marginalized in society on many accounts. So, to point out the supposed privilege of an already disenfranchised group seems wrong, but I suppose it’s about a certain point of reference. Either way, I believe it’s there, so blatantly obvious that we miss it.
It isn’t easy coming to a country where you don’t know anyone and already feel like an outsider. It also doesn’t help when that country can do a seriously fantastic job of making you feel unwanted, even if they don’t mean to. In the smallest but most effective of ways, people run out of patience trying to understand the English you are trying so hard to learn. They criticize you for not ditching your culture at the door, wondering why you don’t try harder to ‘integrate into society,’ when your culture and identity are the only things you have left of home. In the worst of cases, with tongues dripped in ignorance and bigotry, they tell you to “go home” because your skin matches the one of a few headlined on the news as terrorists. “Nobody asked you to come here,” they may say, and to that, I hope the response adopted from most parents is, “No, you’re right, nobody did ask, but I came anyway, and for my children, I will conquer.”
Truthfully, parents already have it really hard, and parenting seems like a nightmare. I can sympathize with that life, but other days I wonder if we view it as something natural because our society expects us to. Either way, to be a parent who sacrifices all they have, everything and everyone they have, in the hopes that their children will be better off? That’s hardcore parenting.
Seriously, shout out to all immigrant parents. Sure, life is hard on everyone, but choosing to make it harder for yourself so that your future generations won’t face the same struggles you did? That’s love. Shout out to my ammi and baba – I love you, and I thank you.
CC photography courtesy of Flickr user Giugiz; banner design courtesy of Wanderer Online Photography Editor Bryan Tran.