In the second episode of the Netflix original comedy “Master of None,” the characters Dev and Brian realize that their parents experienced a lot of hardships as first-generation immigrants. To express their gratitude, they treat their parents out to dinner and listen to stories from their parents’ difficult childhoods. Dev even buys his father a guitar and a series of guitar lessons, while Brian begins to immerse himself in his father’s interests. The episode ends on this heartwarming note, and everyone seemingly lives happily ever after.
It was certainly sweet and refreshing to see the struggle of immigrants depicted on television; however, I felt that I couldn’t relate completely. Unlike Dev and Brian, I’m not a second-generation immigrant. I came here from the Philippines with my parents when I was seven years old, and it’s something I will always be grateful for.
Coming from a developing country, America was definitely an upgrade. It has functional highways that don’t trap people in traffic for four hours. Drivers that actually remain within road lanes and often give way to pedestrians. Mostly clean streets that don’t perpetually reek of sewage. Buildings that aren’t competing with one another for space. Lunchables.
A lifetime of scrimping, saving and sacrifice has amounted into this privileged life of mine. Every decision my parents made, no matter how seemingly petty, was made in consideration of how it would benefit the rest of the family. They’ve left behind family and friends to pursue a better life in a foreign country with a bunch of fast-talking people they have difficulty understanding.
My mom endured her early years in America working as a caregiver — a far cry from her secretarial position at a prominent bank in the Philippines. At some point, she was working for a racist patient who verbally abused her. She eventually had to quit because the physical strain was too much for her body. Ultimately, my dad began taking jobs overseas in order to secure a better salary, something he is still doing to this day.
There’s an assumption that immigrating to America is the equivalent of success. The truth is, getting here is not even half the struggle. I once heard a Filipino saying that reminded me of my dad: Life as an immigrant in America is comfortable, but hard. It’s comfortable because it’s safer, cleaner and the government is more reliable. However, it’s difficult because the grind never ends — even for the next generation.
Sometimes when I’m driving my fully functioning car, stressing out about graduate school or drinking a $5 latte, I realize that these are things my parents didn’t have the luxury to indulge in when they were my age. It’s the little conveniences in my life that remind me how much I have benefitted from my parents’ struggles.
My parents never complained about life or work being too hard, but when I was young I saw the way my dad used to come home from a long day of work. The first thing he would do was collapse into a chair, look at the ceiling and heave a protracted sigh. Now, I feel incredibly sad when I think of my graying dad working by himself in some far-away place, with no one to come home to and only finding comfort in Skype sessions with his wife, children and grandchildren.
Being a witness to all this, I can’t help but feel that I have to make all their sacrifices worthwhile. I wish it were as simple as treating them out to dinner or buying them gifts like Dev and Brian did. I know my parents didn’t endure those hardships because they’re martyrs — they expect me to reimburse them for all their risks and sacrifices.
There was a point in my life when I wanted to pursue a career in graphic design. They were in complete disapproval, and would try to talk me out of it every chance they could. According to them, how would I be able to care for them and spoil them when they’re 80 on an artist’s salary? In their opinion, such a job was too unstable.
While I am grateful for everything, having this priceless debt looming over me is difficult. Every day seems like a struggle to prove myself worthwhile. I often feel like I’m never truly my own person — that I’ll always and only ever will be their investment. Sometimes I want throw away all my inhibitions and do something completely irresponsible and selfish, but I’m always reminded of what my parents went through to get to where we are today. It’s burdensome, but then I realize that our relationship isn’t devoid of affection. Not everything about my life is like the transaction I’ve made it out to be.
I realize that a lot of my resentment probably stems from being afraid of disappointing them. I’m only a single person— how can I possibly live up to two people that have practically taken over the world for me?