THERE'S A SEWING KIT IN THE COOKIE TIN AND MAYBE MY IMMIGRANT PARENTS LOVE ME AFTER ALL
There are two laws of nature in an immigrant household: 1) The Cookie Tin Must Contain Anything But Cookies, 2) We Want You To Unrealistically Excel So We Are Going To Intimidate And Pressure You For Decades And Also, No Fun Allowed.
The first law has successfully tricked me for years, leaving a void in my heart every time I thought I was going to taste the delicious and infamous Royal Dansk butter cookies but found spools of thread and stitching needles instead. What a travesty! The second law ruined my life. (I am really dramatic.) Maybe it doesn’t apply to you-you're first gen but your parents wanted you to do your best, in whatever made you the happiest. That’s awesome, and that’s how it should be. However, I can’t relate. In fact, a lot of people can’t.
Maybe the second “law of nature” is worded a bit harshly, but I have fake PTSD from my mom comparing my test scores to the other kids in the neighborhood, all the way from elementary school Statewide Exams to the SAT. No matter how well I did, my parents always pressured me to do better. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with anyone or go to any school events like basketball games and Prom. I couldn’t go to anyone’s birthday party, and in high school, I had to reject all of my friend's sweet sixteens. My parents would always check my phone, and give me frequent lectures about becoming a doctor and being a “good Muslim girl”. As a young kid and a teenager, I felt like my parents hated me. But look, this isn’t anything new. There are so many first-generation kids who can tell similar stories about growing up in an immigrant household and feeling like their parents couldn’t fundamentally understand them, and they were confused about whether or not they belong: because they couldn’t fit in with their peers in school or their families. It’s a collective understanding we all have with each other, that sometimes brings us closer to people we just met, for the sole reason that they’re kids of immigrants too, and they just get it. Your parents didn’t let you take art classes because they think anything outside of STEM is useless? Not allowed to date or bring anyone home that isn’t within your race or religion? Have to sneak out of the house at the age of 22? Ah, join the club, fellow brethren!
Actually owning up to what I want to do with my life and constantly debating with my mom and dad for the last four years in college about my true wants and needs has shown me that my parents are not my enemies - they just want the best for me and they show that in the only ways they know how. Sure, it sucks to have to explain myself all the time and usually end the conversation with them not totally happy about what I’m doing- but I accept that my parents have never deliberately meant to hurt me with all their harsh rules. They do everything for me. Like other immigrant moms, mine is always cutting up fruit and leaving it on a plate for me when I’m studying. Things like that are a symbol of their love, even if they can’t bring themselves to outwardly say, “I love you.” I want to be open to the idea that they came from a very different culture and time and that’s why sometimes we clash- but that doesn’t mean that they love me any less. Life is short, and unfortunately, we don’t have all the time in the world to spend with our parents. It’s a very first generational thing to hide your whole life from your family because of the fear of them never understanding you, or rejecting you for the way you are. I feel this because I do it too. But if I can open my heart and accept the fact that my parents are just human too, then I can understand that they are learning and unlearning things all the time, just like me. The best thing we can do for each other is forgive, accept, and love. Maybe the two real laws of nature with immigrant parents are this: 1) The Cookie Tin Must Contain Anything But Cookies, 2) My Immigrant Parents Love Me For Who I Am After All, And They Are Going To Give Me Fruit When I’m Studying.