As a child of immigrant parents, I was raised differently than most kids around me. Throughout my school career, I have been called out for the way I spoke or simply because I didn’t fit in with the other students. I have felt out of place, and I imagine I am not alone in this feeling — many other first-generation immigrant teens have probably felt this way at some point.
According to the New York Times, almost 60 percent of growth in university enrollment since 2000 has come from U.S.-born children of immigrants or immigrant students. With this growth, many first-generation immigrant students feel the pressure to succeed.
Many of us have come to the realization that our parents escaped their troublesome lives to come to another country in hopes of providing better opportunities for their children, and the majority of us strive to take advantage of the opportunities our parents never had.
Aside from the fact we are put into a place where the people around us are different, there is sometimes a huge language barrier. Most of us have had to deal with the weight of adjusting to a new language when starting our education because our parents could not speak English.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, “In 2019, approximately 46 percent (20.7 million) of the 44.6 million immigrants ages 5 and older were Limited English Proficient.”
Many immigrant parents also don’t have the knowledge to help their children with schoolwork, adding to the many things first-generation immigrant students have to worry about.
A huge fear of failure creeps up on me when I feel discouraged. I put so much time and effort into my performance at school. The thought that I could make a simple mistake or error that might cause my grades to drop makes my stomach hurt. The all-too-familiar feeling of my breath getting caught in my throat and my mind cluttering takes over at the thought of having to tell my parents. I just want to succeed and make them proud.
Most of us are taught that even if it is harder, we need to work diligently to achieve our goals. I know my parents would be disappointed if I chose not to go to college or suddenly gave up on my dreams. I feel a huge responsibility to overcome obstacles and keep receiving good grades and awards, just like many others. Data published in 2019 by the Migration Policy Institute shows immigrants accounted for 33 percent of students ages 25 and older who had a bachelor’s degree.
This drive in no small part comes from how first-generation U.S.-born students or immigrant students feel obliged to give back to their families after all they have done. Often, parents talk about the future and how much hope they have in us.
Not wanting to let my parents down, I feel this never-ending pressure to succeed. I would not only be dismayed with myself, but I would feel guilty for wasting a chance that in my family, only I was given.
Is it fair that first-generation students have so much pressure to succeed in school just because their parents might not have had the same opportunity? All of us share different interests and aspirations. It would be unfair if our whole career path were chosen without our input. I believe it is important for us to be aware of the huge opportunity we have been given, but we should not be placed under so much pressure to the point we begin disliking what we are doing. Finding a middle ground between working hard to please our parents and having the freedom to choose our own path is crucial.
Despite the pressure I feel, I will always be thankful for my parents and what they have done for my siblings and me. I know the hard work will pay off and I will be able to give back to them.