My mom still doesn’t understand GE requirements.
She’ll get on me every now and then about how I’m wasting her money taking these useless classes and how I should just focus on taking my major classes.
I blew up on her one day. Over Whatsapp, of all things.
Didn’t she understand how hard it was to navigate a system that no one gave me a guide for?
Didn’t she understand that I was the first in our family to attend college in the United States, and that I had no one to give me advice or teach me about the things I needed to plan for?
I’ve never considered myself a first-gen student, because my parents both went to college, albeit in India. But the two education systems are so vastly different, it’s hard to explain to my mom that yes, I do need to take these art classes to graduate.
And even long before I was thinking about college, my parents already were. Indian parents, or even Asian parents in general, are primed to view a good education as the straightforward route to success. If you work hard from a young age and get good grades and test scores, you’ll get into a Good College, and if you work hard and get good grades in college, you’ll land a good job right out of college. That good job will set you up for financial success, and you’ll live comfortably.
I understand where they’re coming from. It’s the way they were told they would find success. It’s what my parents did. They studied hard, went to a good college and, when they had the opportunity, they moved to the United States to make a better life for themselves. And when they were able to support themselves and my brother and me, they started sending money back to India to support their family back home.
We’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit India frequently, and over the years, I’ve seen how my parents have been able to give back to their parents and siblings there. On my dad’s side of the family, his mother, sister, brother-in-law and three nephews and nieces were able to move out of a one-bedroom apartment with his help. Two of my cousins have now moved to the U.S. to get their master’s degree, with his help. My mom was able to help her sister build her own hospital in Hyderabad and help her brother-in-law run for office.
I frequently joke about how Indian people only view three careers as options for their children: doctor, lawyer and engineer. But it really was the case. I fought hard and got into truly nasty arguments with my parents growing up about what career path I would pursue.
I’ve always been a writer at heart. I knew that. So when it came time to apply to colleges, every day in my home was a battlefield. Eventually, my parents and I settled on a compromise: I would go into marketing, the one field my parents thought was financially viable and that I thought I could do work that I was good at and enjoyed.
When I decided on UCSB as my school, my parents were skeptical of communication as my major but figured it was the closest thing the school had to business.
And then I fell in love with journalism. I had already taken a few years of it in high school (another source of strain between my parents and me), but it was at the Nexus where I knew there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do with my life.
“I’LL BE WRITING DAMN ARTICLES ON MY DEATHBED,” I wrote in an overzealous finsta post over the summer.
Didn’t my mom understand how hard it was to navigate a system that no one gave me a guide for?
I know I have a long road ahead of me when it comes to my parents. A few months ago, my parents told me to cut back on my time at the Nexus because it was just a “hobby.” I didn’t know how to tell them how it was so much more to me.
I think we’re getting there, though. The other day, I talked to my mom about the internships I had applied to and about a journalism class I was thinking about taking. And for the first time in my life, my mom talked to me about it like journalism was an option. For the first time in my life, my mom was accepting me as I was.
There will be people who read this and won’t understand why it matters so much what my parents say. But despite how hard I’ve railed against a lot of the things my parents believe in, there’s a part of me that still wants to please them. I want my parents to be proud of me. I want to show them that I can both pursue the career I love and support myself.
And above all that, there’s the prevailing aspiration familiar to any child of an immigrant: I want to make their sacrifices worthwhile.
There are days when I get so angry at my parents for not understanding me and at the world for throwing me all the curveballs it can think of. And then there are days when I Whatsapp message my parents about something I’ve accomplished, and they’ll respond with a thumbs-up or “nice” (the only two ways they know how to give praise), and it means everything to me.
Sanya Kamidi wants people to find a balance between their parents’ aspirations and their own.