Last year on February 16th there were nationwide peaceful protests dubbed a Day Without Immigrants. Across the country, immigrants stayed home from work and took to the streets to raise awareness about the atrocities they’re facing in their adopted homeland. These actions were a direct response to Trump’s disgusting campaign against immigrants, initially geared towards Mexicans and Muslims but advancing to disgrace almost all minority communities across our land during his first year in office.
Since the founding of the United States of America, we’ve been a nation made up of immigrants. To campaign against immigration is simply anti-American. With such a negative rhetoric in the national media surrounding immigrant families, I wanted to commemorate the Day Without Immigrants anniversary by showcasing the stories behind real families that have given up everything in hopes of being welcomed in America, the beautiful. Remember these personal tales, they’re much more powerful than Trump’s shameful statements about immigrants.
I’m the daughter of an immigrant, and I’m not alone. As of a 2012 population survey, there are around 20 million second-generation Americans that are adults. Most were born to an Asian or Hispanic parent. This doesn’t include immigrants themselves, or children. We are all American. Some of us that are Latinos can even cheekily say that we’re double American–from both the Northern and Southern sections of the continent. The cover photo is from the day my dad became an American citizen, one of the most difficult days of his life.
I grew up with two cultures, and develop a third as I travel the world. I’ve discussed my experience as the daughter of an immigrant widely so I’ve asked my sister to contribute hers. She, along with 12 other daughters of immigrants graciously answered my request to share their experiences with us. I’m deeply moved by their responses and their family stories. Some of these women are daughters of people born to holocaust survivors, escaped civil wars, and brutal torture. Others had less life-threatening reasons but made historic strides to join this nation and contribute as small business owners, military personnel, and doctors. Each did a miraculous job of raising strong, independent, and determined daughters.
Multiple recurring themes have surfaced from the self-exploration and reflection of what it has meant to us to be daughters of immigrants. Our parent’s heritage is a large part of our own identity, but so is the way we’re perceived. Many of us have felt the need to defend our place as Americans, and also as our other nationalities. Attempts to find ourselves through our mixed-cultures left us mixed-up. Most of us fought to fit in and be less foreign in our childhoods, then fought just has hard to embrace our heritage and reclaim our identity as adults. We beat the odds and pursued further education. We have rigorous work ethics that can’t be broken, much like the spirit of our parents. We share the battle of language barriers, the heartbreak of displaced families, and hope for a brighter future. We’re some of the most empathetic Americans you’ll ever meet. We’ve struggled with our identities but at the end of the day we all have one thing in common as the daughters of immigrants: We are humbled by the routes our parents took to arrive in America and we are proud of them every step of the way. We aspire to be as brave as our immigrant parent(s) were the day they crossed borders and stepped into the land of the free. Each of our immigrant parent(s) had a different path, different persuasions, and different passions to pursue in America. We are and always have been the true thread that embellishes the fabric of American society.
These are the daughters of immigrants whose parents have come from all corners of the globe to America in hopes for a better, brighter future:
Maxie Gomez was born in California to Guatemalan parents. Today she’s making a positive impact in her community through her career as a social worker. “I’m working off the blood, sweat, and tears of my immigrant parents.” Despite the hatred that Latinos across America are feeling in Trump’s America, Maxie continues to be hopeful for America’s future as, “there are people out there with good, brave hearts and time will only tell what is to come.”
Maxie’s mother immigrated to the US first at 14 and her father followed when he was 18. “My grandmother didn’t want my mother dating my father so she was sent to live in the U.S. to make a better life for herself. My father was on his way to Canada but ended up meeting my mother in LA. She went to high school and worked at a restaurant after school and on weekends. He worked at a mechanic shop. It was always a struggle for them financially–they still carry their experiences with them when they stretch every dollar, shop at thrift stores, and eat budget-friendly frijoles y huevos.”
Even in Los Angeles, which is home to many Latin American families, Maxie struggled with racism and shame as a child. “I remember being slightly embarrassed over my parent’s accents and the food my mother would send me to school with. Today I take great pride in being the daughter of two immigrants. I’m the first on both sides of my family to graduate with a BA degree in the U.S. I feel a great weight on my shoulders to prove that “the struggle” was worth it. Being the daughter of two immigrants makes me want to work twice as hard to get what I want or to where I want to be. To prove that my parents, my family, and our people belong here just as much as anybody else. We are good people with great skills not asking for a handout but for equal opportunities.”
Lena Papadopoulos is a first generation Greek-American. Both of her parents are from a small rural village in Greece and neither completed a high school education. She has a MA in Cultural Anthropology and International Development and seeks to create intentional opportunities for understanding across cultural difference through the #voyagetovulnerability movement. “My father immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager with his family. My grandparents had a number of different jobs, mostly working in factories, and struggled with the loss of community and ability to communicate. Years later my dad was a successful restaurateur met my mom on a visit to Greece. They married and she joined him in the U.S. when she was 19 and I was born a few months later.”
With two Greek parents, Lena was very connected to the culture. “As my mother didn’t yet know English I grew up with the Greek language as well as Greek music and food. We visited Greece for a few weeks each year to see family. We were the only Greek people in the area so I always had this longing for Greece, there wasn’t anyone to share this passion with or speak the language with.” Although Lena is 100% Greek she’s been constantly told that she can’t call herself Greek as she was born in the U.S., ”that used to make me so angry! You cannot tell anyone how to identify; that is a deeply personal thing. One challenge for me as the daughter of immigrants was navigating aspects of life in the U.S. that my parents just didn’t know much about, like education. I was pushed hard to succeed in school, and there was a strong focus on education in my life.”
Lena reflects a similar theme to other daughters of immigrants, the pressure to make your parents proud. “As the child of an immigrant, you want them to know that their sacrifice and hard work was worth it. Does that mean I carry on their legacy and dreams, or does that mean I create my own? I have no interest in working in a restaurant; my passions lie in travel, education, and storytelling. Sometimes I feel guilty as though the perception is that I’m ungrateful for all that I’ve been given and that I’ve chosen to be selfish instead. Choosing my own passions and dreams is the ultimate expression of my gratitude–I’m living my own vision, and I’m only able to do that because of all they have done for me. The fact that my parents created this life for me means that I don’t have to follow in their footsteps; their sacrifices culminated in my ability to make choices. My parents made the decisions they did in order to build a better life for themselves, which is what I have chosen to do as well.”
Maria Gabriela Gonzalez was born in Venezuela and had difficulty migrating to the States as she was 18 when her family moved and didn’t qualify for a green card as easily. She launched @storiesofanimmigrant to share the experiences of immigrants around the world. Maria lovingly speaks of hardworking Venezuelan mother. “She is an entrepreneurial woman full of great ideas with a contagious laugh. In her late forties she went to the USA to offer her children a better life, she worked as hard as she could to make it in America. “
Staying behind in Venezuela while her family prospered in America was challenging for Maria. “That very thing that gave my mother hope, broke my heart into a million pieces. She’d say, ‘There’s always a way, it’s never too late.’ It took many years before I stopped feeling abandoned. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to understand my mom’s decision. Being the daughter of an immigrant is an important part of the woman I’ve become. I’ve learned that home is not a place, but a feeling and that no matter how far my loved ones are, they’re always in my heart. I have a wonderful family that supports me no matter the circumstances or distance. Having family in other countries has allowed me to be more emphatic with my process and others.”
Daniela Wood was born in Ontario, Canada and moved to the U.S. in 2011 and is married to an American citizen. Daniela’s late father was born to holocaust survivors in Germany in 1949. He immigrated to Canada and became a successful doctor, contributing beyond the expectations of any citizen. “My grandmother miraculously survived a Russian concentration camp, and my grandfather was released by Americans after the war. My father remembers that they were considered refugees and were made fun of by classmates. My father’s mother taught them that “People can take away your home and all of your belongings, but they cannot take away your mind and your education.” Because of WWII, they were reluctant to let my father into Canada, and insisted that he not only be fluent in English, but French as well.”
She honors her father’s memory by proudly telling us how he, “treated tens of thousands of patients by saving lives, delivering babies, and helping people struggling with infertility be able to have babies. I can’t imagine how different so many lives would be if my father was denied entry to Canada. I’m currently getting my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling so I can help people struggling with mental illness. My brother is a doctor in Connecticut. We are a family of immigrants helping people and making a difference in the countries we now call home.”
Ashley Toscano is a Mexican-American Texas native, based in NYC, and an avid traveler. “My parents emigrated from Mexico in 1985. They weren’t here for the American dream, they loved their home country and saw this as a temporary move, to help them get back on their feet. It was a harsh reality as they quickly realized that they had to work from the very bottom. My mother worked in housekeeping jobs, and my father picked up trash from the wealthy neighborhood and the prestigious high school he dreamed of one day sending his children to. My dad told his partner, ‘One day I’m going to send my kids there.’ His friend told him to keep dreaming. This is often how it is being the child of an immigrant–living the dreams of your parents, and the tremendous responsibility and guilt that comes with that.”
She shares transformative childhood memories, such as the time her father picked her up from school with tears in his eyes. “He gave me the news that I’d been accepted to that prestigious high school with a generous scholarship. Later, when I walked across the stage at Pomona College, I saw the huge smile and tears on both my mom and dad’s faces as they watched their eldest child graduate from college. These moments are what it means for me being a daughter of an immigrant, it’s dealing with the pressure of knowing your life is due to the sacrifices of your parents and being able to repay them, in your own way, for the incredible amount they’ve done for you.”
Kiona is a fourth culture kid. She was born in Hawaii to an Austrian father and Korean mother. “My parents were very clear in letting me know I was 100% from my mom’s culture, 100% from my dad’s culture, and 100% Hawaiian-American, but to the outside world, no one knows where to place me. I love being the daughter of immigrants. My parents are an inspiration to me.”
She details her parents’ love story and how they wound up in America: “My parents didn’t immigrate to the United States out of poverty or depression, but rather for love. While this is an immense privilege, to not immigrate to escape anything but rather to join two hearts together, making a life decision that involves changing your language, your culture, finding a job, and making new friends and family in a land completely foreign to you, all for the love of one person puts an immense amount of pressure on a couple. When you move for love, all the sacrifice, the restarts, the giving up of your nation and language has to be worth it. It takes the intensity of a relationship, whether it be a moment of happiness or despair, to the next level.”
Kimya Forouzan is the daughter of Iranian parents and is pursuing a career in reproductive health policy while she volunteers with Planned Parenthood. She is an invaluable asset to the health of her community, as are her parents. “My parents came to the U.S. while the Shah was in power for my father to teach at University of Pennsylvania’s medical school and they later permanently moved to the U.S. due to the Islamic Revolution. My parents’ immigration experience was a struggle despite the fact that they were privileged in comparison to many other immigrants.”Kimya grew up with excellent parents as role-models but struggled with her identity. “I’m extremely fortunate and privileged to have grown up in a community with many resources, but I was one of only POC in my school. I sought to blend into the point that I compromised my identity. Since I’ve come to celebrate my culture. Although I still struggle with the pressures of trying to make sure that my parents’ sacrifices were worth it by setting extremely high expectations for myself, I have come to realize the importance of my identity.”
Patricia Estrada was born in the U.S. to parents who immigrated from El Salvador. “My parents became documented US citizens in the 90s, along with their siblings, and have always been law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. People see us and the color of our skin and they automatically think that we are ‘part of the problem’. My parents came to the U.S. separately but both for the same reason, a brutal civil war in the 80s. My mom came with her mom and two sisters when she was about 15. They crossed by land and her brothers were in NYC waiting for them. My dad came by himself when he was 18. He made it to Los Angeles and quickly began looking for work. He was one of those guys you see outside Home Depot looking for handyman jobs or other simple construction work. Eventually, he became a cab driver which is his lifelong career– he’s now an Uber and private driver. My mom was a stay at home mom until we were old enough to leave at home alone. She started cleaning houses and eventually became a cab driver as well.”
Attending high school in an affluent neighborhood where she didn’t live was complicated for Patricia. “I always felt like I didn’t belong at my high school. I felt like people looked at me with disgust or pity. I started working part-time at 14 so I could buy expensive clothes and shoes. My parents never made me work, I did it because I wanted to fit in. I was and have always been proud of my Salvadoran roots–but my parents never really celebrated it themselves.” Patricia and her family found it difficult to celebrate being from a country that is war-torn and impoverished. “I understand that all the struggles I faced given my background, and my parents’ sacrifices made me so much stronger. My parents taught me that I’d always have to work twice as hard to prove myself. My dad always worked insane hours, sometimes overnight when he hadn’t made enough in a day. His work ethic is mine now, and I always go above and beyond what is required of me to prove that I’m worth even more than my counterparts.”
Florence Shin is the daughter of South Korean immigrants and the co-founder of Covry, an accessories brand she created with a fellow Asian-American. “Growing up in the U.S. as the daughter of immigrants I’ve always felt stuck between two identities. I was embarrassed to bring friends over, afraid they might make fun of how Korean food smelled and looked or would feel uncomfortable taking their shoes off. Despite growing up in the same society, it was clear that I was a different “type” of American. At home, Korean culture was strongly present in language, tradition, and food. If people asked where I was from, I would tell them that I was from New Jersey. But then they would clarify their question, “Where are you really from?” My response has become, “I was born here, but my parents are from Korea.”
Florence’s parents immigrated to the U.S. over 30 years ago after their wedding. “My dad obtained a student visa for his graduate studies, and they settled down in New Jersey. Eventually, they saved enough to open up their first business and become homeowners. When they were studying for their civics test I quizzed them,”When do we celebrate Independence Day?” “How many justices are on the Supreme Court?” In retrospect, it’s funny to picture myself as an elementary school student confidently drilling my parents. I was unaware of the privileges of being born an American citizen, I didn’t realize what a monumental moment it was for them to renounce their homeland and become naturalized citizens. The hard work and sacrifice of my parents gave me the opportunity to dream big. They’re the real heroes.”
Alicia Bright is one of those people who lives up to her dreamy surname. She simply is bright–from her work as a certified yoga teacher to her goal to travel the world and spread love and understanding. Her mom was born in Colombia and came to the U.S. to go to graduate school for Civil Engineering. “She became the president of the Civil Engineering Graduate Student Association at N.C. State University and pursued her Ph.D. My mother was fortunate to have parents who supported her studies. She was privileged to have an English tutor so language wasn’t an issue for her. But it was hard to leave her country, her parents, and come alone to a completely different country and way of living where she didn’t know anyone. My mom is one of the most humble, intelligent, and hardworking people I know. Whenever I doubt my capabilities I always remind myself of how my mother went into the unknown to get to where she is today. Being the daughter of an immigrant shaped my empathy, sensitivity, and passion, and gave me the strength to create a life on my terms. I see how immigration opens us to hard workers who don’t feel entitled but want to better their own lives, as well as their communities.”
Like for many other daughters of immigrants, identity was complex for Alicia, “I didn’t grow up speaking much Spanish–not being fluent always made me feel like I couldn’t claim I was Latina. I felt like a fan of the culture, but like I was on the outskirts. The current political climate has me motivated and wanting to dig even deeper into my roots. I’ve always been sensitive and empathetic towards the un-advantaged especially when good and honest people are faced with unfairness. I always try to see myself in other and feel it is my duty as a human to extend kindness, curiosity, and understanding to all even if I don’t know them. At the end of the day, we are all people, and we have the same general wants, needs, and fears.”
Jillian Ahluwalia was born to an Indian father and a Jewish-American mother. Her late father immigrated to the U.S. after college with very little money and worked at a gas station when he first arrived with the goal was to go to the Cornell University, he was accepted but couldn’t afford tuition. Jillian explains the struggle she had with identity growing up which such clashing cultures. “I’ve struggled with which side I identify with and fit in with more but never really found my niche with either. I was brought up Jewish but never identified with my Hebrew school peers. I grew up going to India and saw things my classmates couldn’t understand. People always ask why my dad never taught me Hindi. He came here when there weren’t as many Indians in the U.S. He wanted to Americanize himself in order to fit in.”
She shares a particular moment that always stands out as when she started questioning her identity. “One day my mom picked me up at my bus stop when I was seven years old. A girl on my bus saw my fair skinned, blonde mother waiting at the top of my driveway. She then looked at my olive skin and dark hair and asked if I was adopted. It was devastating and I remember it to this day.” she goes on to reflect on the dreams her parents had for their children, “we were pushed to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers (which neither of us became). We were told to never make excuses for not excelling. But mostly we were told we could do anything that we wanted to do as long as we were the best (no pressure).”
Victoria Buitron is a translator whose parents came to the U.S. from Ecuador to make the American dream a reality for their children. Victoria reflects on their plight, “they arrived without knowing a word of English. My mother has worked as a nanny and my father as a garbage man. When I was a kid, they repeatedly emphasized education as the gateway to a better life. They told my brother and me that no matter what happened, even when they lost their house, that we would go to college. This is what all children of immigrants want to do: make their parents proud. As a first-generation American, my goal is to have made all their sacrifices worth it. Everything I do is linked to them. Will this make them proud? What can I do to make their lives better? I hope to one day give them back much more than they have given me.”
On why she doesn’t relate to the term Americanized–”I’m Ecuadorian and American, not half Ecuadorian and half American. I have two passports, I know two languages and have lived in both countries. As I was growing up, I had my left foot in one country and the right one in the other. It was hard to find a balance and to create a solid identity. I’m proud of my home, the country that I was born, and why I have promised to never forget my roots.”
For those who’ve been following Miss Filatelista for a while now you know that I’m also the daughter of an immigrant and a proud Latina. My father escaped being tortured during the military dictatorship in Uruguay in the 70s when he was just 24 by walking across the continent of South America and through Central America. I asked my sister Rachael Méndez to share her reflections on what it was like growing up as our father’s daughters, and as multicultural kids in the Midwest. As far as how we feel in Trump’s America? “Equating families like ours to a pest problem by using the fictitious term chain migration implies that we present the perceived problem of an exponentially growing immigrant community.”
“Our father left Uruguay after being tortured by the oppressive military regime. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be alive today. His journey was ripe with adversity; he had no money and only the clothes he wore. After escaping into Argentina by crossing the Rio de la Plata in a tiny boat during a hurricane, our father’s only option was to hitchhike and walk north. This took nearly six months, full of days without food, sleeping in rainforests, fighting for his life, and getting stuck in an avalanche. Our father fought his way to the U.S., and when he arrived in Mexico, a fellow Uruguayan paid for his flight to New York City, where he lived for ten years. He arrived on the Fourth of July and loves to tell the tale of how terrified he was of the loud booming of the fireworks.”
We didn’t shy away from our Uruguayan roots and were always proud of our father’s plight but we faced prejudice for our indigenous Latin American roots. “I was twelve years old the first time I was bullied for being Latina. It started with the classic, “Can you tell your dad I need my lawn mowed?” (our father owned a bicycle shop) and escalated to my dad being called a “wetback” and my being called a “spic.” In 8th grade, my father was blamed for AIDS being in the United States (no, he doesn’t have AIDS) and told I shouldn’t go to South America because of the dangerous blood diamond trade (wrong continent). When I was younger, these cruel words frustrated me because they were wrong. I didn’t see the hate until I was older and reflecting on these moments. They revealed to me many other moments which I had previously perceived as playful jokes, were racial microaggressions. Things like my white American cousins teasing my dad for his accent, yet they only speak one language and he speaks six.”
Our message to Trump and Co. as daughters of immigrants?
Forouzan summarizes it best with her statement about Trump, “His words and actions are absolutely reprehensible, and I encourage those from non-immigrant families to continually engage their friends, family, and loved ones who support Trump. I also encourage them to do what they can to support newly arrived immigrants. It’s simply not enough to tweet your disapproval of Trump’s actions–we all must take action, and the responsibility rests with allies to support immigrant communities already leading the charge.”
Like many daughters of immigrants, Bright was stunned after the presidential election. “With a voice as loud as Trump’s, I worry how this language will affect young minds. It’s given a power and platform to bigoted thoughts and actions. It’s important that we all remember that we’re more alike than different. Trump’s rhetoric uses fear and ego to divide and put people against each other. I hope the voices of compassion can be louder than those of ignorance.”
Papadopoulos echoes Bright’s sentiments about fear. “Those of us who don’t support Trump fear division and prejudice. We fear that POC will continue to be subjugated. We fear that families will be torn apart and people who have made a home here will be forced to leave. We fear that Muslims will be treated as less than human. We fear that what we perceive to be our basic human rights will be stripped away. Those who support Trump fear that the religion upon which they base their decisions is being threatened. They’re fearful of losing jobs to those who come here from abroad and are willing to work for lower wages. They fear that what they perceive to be their basic human rights will be stripped away. We’re united in our fear. There is a great deal of overlap in our fears. Our fears expose our greatest vulnerabilities. I fear that the voices and experiences of diversity will be silenced, that people will be pushed out, marginalized, deported, oppressed. Share your fears and have compassion toward one another.”