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Roots and Wings: Navigating Identity for Second-Gen Immigrants in Canada

By February 23, 2024March 12th, 2024No Comments

There are multiple challenges that newcomer parents encounter with raising their second-generation children—challenges that end up shaping their children’s mindsets. In search of a better life for their children, parents make life-changing sacrifices, which many second-generation children often express to be guilt-tripping causing identity crises, deep-rooted pressures to preserve their cultural heritage at the cost of their Canadian identities, and the list goes on. When they opt to spread their wings in a new country and pursue their dreams with a new beginning, the fear of their roots getting cut off makes them vulnerable to their children—the worst part is, that parents often don’t realize the burden they are putting on their children.

I immigrated from Bangladesh in November 2021 with my husband and two teenage sons and, similar to many newcomer parents, I was also on the same page as them on parenting our children. However, this all changed one day, when on my way home from an office party in an Uber. The Uber was driven by a young South Asian second gen young man, Sourav, who had recently finished his undergrad. We began talking, and he shared some of his stories that changed my views on parenting, and for the first time, I could see both sides of the coin. 

His struggles were similar to my sons. We shared the same journey yet had different perspectives. Although he was expressing why parents shouldn’t treat their children the way they do, and I was protesting, he expressed how burdensome it became when his parents would consistently remind him of their prestigious and settled lives back home that they sacrificed for him. He said, “By saying these things to me, they are holding me guilty for their situation’, and I argued, they took a step for your brighter future and they’re sharing their struggles with you, not to hold you guilty for their situation. Also, if you know your family’s situation properly, it may help you to make your future decisions properly.” 

Sourav’s second argument was, “My parents made me a liar, I want to hang out with my friends and they never allowed me to do that. Hence, I was forced to lie (which I never wanted) to hang out with them.” I then asked how he felt about those hangouts. He honestly replied,  “Now I feel that I shouldn’t have known so many weird things at that age, though I enjoyed it at that time too’. So we both came to a mutual understanding that having little control over children is better than finding out by themselves what is right or what is wrong for them. 

The next complaint was, that his parents didn’t let him pursue the career he wanted, rather they pressured him to take a career path which is typically known as practical options like IT, Medical, or Engineering. He wanted to pursue a musical career which his parents considered more as a hobby than a career. A similar conversation was going on at my own house also, so I was carefully listening to his points. As my elder son also showed a similar interest in choosing a musical profession, I directly didn’t refuse him but told him to keep it as an alternative career. He plays flute and by solely playing flute, how can he earn a decent livelihood? As my son argued, he cannot be the best flute player if his focus is shattered, which I agreed. But still, I cannot allow him to choose playing flute as his only career. I thought Sourav had the same thought process and I tried to support his parents by saying, ” You know what, life is a tough journey and it thrashes everyone at some point, so it’s better to have that experience from your dear ones before having it from the harsh life”. I was not ready for his answer and it came out like this, ‘I am ready for the world to thrash me but at least I expected my parents to understand me and I am not ready to get thrashed from my home’. Again, both sides have their pictures and no one can deny any one side. 

So, with these differences in our opinion, we reached our destination, though on the same journey, our role was different. Similarly, the struggle stories of the parents and next-generation children are different, but the destination is the same.