Challenges faced by children of immigrants

For second generation Canadians, there are many hardships and difficulties that come with being the child of an immigrant.

Canada prides itself in being a cultural mosaic, welcoming people of all nations and culture to come and live in this great land.

The mosaic is believed to strengthen Canada as a nation by welcoming cultural diversity as something all Canadians can learn from.

However, as an immigrant, you are also expected to adjust and immerse yourself in Canadian culture and as a child of an immigrant, you are caught between holding on to your roots while also embracing what it means to be Canadian.

“During the holidays, when my friends told stories of all the things they had done, I felt as if I had missed out on a lot because my family didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving and I found myself making up a lot of stories just for the sake of ‘fitting in,’” said Shirley Nham, a Vietnamese-Chinese-Canadian.

As a child, Nham was unable to play with her friends or attend sleepovers because of the fears her parents had.

“By doing so, I fell behind in my ability to form social bonds with others and struggled a lot with developing friendships until university,” said Nham.

“Growing up it was definitely a mix of two worlds,” said Nham.

“There were definitely times I was caught in between the two and it takes fortitude to know where exactly you stand in the middle of all of it.”

Some find difficulties in not belonging to either the country of origin or the country of residence.

Amber Lee, a Korean-Canadian, struggled to fit in with both Korean immigrant students and Canadian students.

“I went to a school in Calgary where there was a fair number of Korean immigrant students, but I had an extremely difficult time fitting in with them because of the language barrier,” said Ko.

“I knew very limited Korean and I didn’t know about a lot of what they were talking about because I wasn’t as immersed and knowledgeable in Korean culture.”

On the other hand, Lee didn’t fit in with many of her Canadian classmates, as she was visibly different than they were.

“Growing up, I was picked on a lot by my other classmates,” said Lee.

“They would call me racial slurs and say things like ‘ching-chong, ching-chong.’ They even made fun of the lunches my mom packed for me and said it was smelly.

“As a child, it broke my heart,” said Lee.

“My mom put a lot of love into packing some of my favourite Korean foods for lunch and I would be too embarrassed to eat it at school because I kept getting picked on. So I would save it until after school and eat it at home.”

Bullying is a common hardship many children of immigrants faced growing up.

Usman Rahman, an Indian-Canadian, was bullied often during his kindergarten to Grade 12 years.

“I was bullied often based on streotypes,” said Rahman.

The comedy show, the Simpsons, has a character named Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who has been characterized to encompass stereotypes of Indians.

“I would be called Apu and kids would talk to me in a fake Indian accent, asking me if my parents owned a convenience store,” said Rahman.

“They would point and laugh at my food and pinch their noses saying it smelled like dog feces.”

While many children face these social struggles, some experience many personal struggles as well.

Many people emigrant from their homeland to try and live a better life and provide a better life for their children.

In doing so, many parents want their children to experience and excel in many activities and in education they themselves did not have a chance to experience.

“I stuggled a lot with pressures being enforced on me to achieve all the goals and dreams my mom wanted to have in a career and family life,” said Nham.

“She was always trying to live vicariously through me as she put me through many activities such as ballet, jazz, hip-hop classes, piano, scouts, Kumon, all while expecting me to juggle that with school and attain good marks.

“From the moment university was in my near future, attending it was something that wasn’t my choice and choosing a degree was not based on what would make me happy but rather what would allow me to have a stable income,” said Nham.

Another common difficulty the children face is a language barrier between the children and the parents and the cultural disconnect they feel from their culture.

Josie Liang, a Chinese-Canadian born and raised in Calgary, went to Chinese school as a young child but did not complete enough grades to be completely fluent in the language.

“I can understand most of what my parents say, but speaking Cantonese to them is difficult sometimes because I do not know how to say some things so I have to integrate English words.

“But then my parents do not completely understand what I’m saying,” said Liang.

“We celebrate western traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas but then my parents also take me to the temple to pray after Chinese New Years, and honestly, I don’t care much for that part,” said Liang.

“I go because of my parents, not because I personally connect, understand, and believe in praying to Buddha.”

She was always trying to live vicariously through me. – Shirley Nham

While some children of immigrants faced these hardships, others have learned to embrace both their cultural identities.

“These identities are what make me unique and have shaped who I am today,” said Liang.

“Although my Cantonese may not be perfect and I still don’t fully understand all my cultural traditions, I am proud of it.”

About Geena Kim 4 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Geena Kim worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2017-18 academic year.