A Message to the Children of Immigrants

Albinko Hasic

You’ve arrived to a new country, leaving behind everyone you ever knew, and most of your possessions.  You’ve left behind friends, family and memories of an old life.  In your parents’ faces you see something that you’ve never seen before, or want to see again, wide-eyed fear and anxiety.

As you arrive at the airport, holding nothing but a plastic bag full of documents and the shirt on your back, you begin to wonder, can’t we just go back?  Can’t we just go back to our old life?  Why did we come here, why do we have to go through this?  Nothing makes sense.  You don’t understand anyone, nor they you.  The food tastes strange.  The people behave differently.  Even simple things, like street signs look alien.  You don’t belong.

And yet, you fight through it.  You see your parents struggling.  You see them rationing food so that you can eat.  You feel the guilt.  Even as a child, when selfishness is never a problem, you feel it.  They work hard, and you rarely see them.  Behind the smile you see their pain.

But it gets better.  You adjust, and your parents hit some sort of routine.  You learn the language much quicker than they do, and they start depending on you.  “What is he saying?”  – “I don’t know dad he wants you to fill out some sort of form.”  “Why is he so upset?” – “I think you need to pay some sort of fee.”  At an early age, you’re asked to be a translator, an attorney, a secretary – a representative.  You’re asked to comb over tax documents, answer the phone, speak to representatives over the phone and make arrangements in official capacities.

As a child, you’re dealing with your own transition to life and trying to fit in – but you’re pulled into a world of adults – asked to do adult things.  It’s a burden and it’s stressful.  When you don’t succeed, you feel like you’ve let down your parents or your family.  When you don’t understand and can’t explain it to your parents, you feel like it’s your own failure.

It hurts when they act dismissive of your parents, and the second they hear their accents treat them differently.  It hurts that they look down on them because they don’t speak the language.  It hurts that they talk down to them, while you’re standing there, understanding every word they’re saying.  You feel angry and upset.  Not just at them, but at yourself.  You feel like it’s because you couldn’t explain it correctly that they’re treated like that.

This is a message to every child of Bosnian immigrants, or immigrants in general;  Never blame yourself for such things.  You may have been thrust into the role that is far beyond what should be asked of a child, but it’s you that will benefit from it down the line.  You learn to grow up faster – and sure this has its drawbacks, but the maturity and self-confidence that you gain will carry you far in life.  The challenges of immigrant children and second-generation children aren’t talked about enough in this country but they are real, and they have consequences.  But they also have a silver lining or two.  You learn to cope and you inherit your parents’ will to survive and make a better life for yourself and your loved ones.  So translate away, and vigorously fight for what is yours.  Through adversity comes growth, because those born with a silver spoon in their mouth can never truly taste life’s beauty in quite the same way.