I try to constantly remind myself that I owe my parents everything. Every time I have to call customer service for my mom or translate a paragraph for my dad, I remind myself that I would not have any of the opportunities I have today were it not for them. Yet there’s something alienating about growing up in Canada as an impressionable child, expecting my parents to reflect the culture we’re in.
My family immigrated to Canada from Iran when I was six years old. As a small child, you really don’t notice much except yourself. You certainly don’t notice the magnitude of a huge decision such as moving across the world.
As they struggled to orient themselves in a new country, my own transition was not very difficult. Sure, it was annoying having go to ESL while the rest of the class did things that were more fun. Sure, I was stuck with the only other Iranian girl in my class who helped me talk to other kids but would also steal my snacks. But none of it really stacked up to my parents who had to learn a new language in their 40s, find a job, a house and rebuild a life at least resembling the one they had before.
I was envious of a lot of things growing up. My parents never signed me up for swimming lessons, or ballet, or any other extra-curricular activities that my peers seemed to be involved in. My parents were too busy being immigrants and besides, there was no extra money for that.
We didn’t often have dinner together as a family — something I was used to seeing families in sitcoms do and something I very much wanted. To this day, my older sister still attempts to instill these traditions in us by insisting we get a Christmas tree, nagging my parents to have Thanksgiving dinner and trying to explain internet memes to them.
I’ve made peace with the fact that there are some things I just can’t change. For example, there are two things my mother absolutely does not believe in paying money for: fast food and movies. Every single time I go to see a movie with friends, I have the same circular conversation with her. It goes something like:
Her: But you can just watch a movie on your laptop.
Me: It’s not the same thing — it’s the experience that’s important.
Her: So you’re paying $15 to have an experience.
At some point it’s not even about culture or immigration, but fundamental differences between parent and child.
It’s difficult coming to terms with the fact that there are elements to my person that my parents will never fully understand. After all, they made me and now I’m supposed to figure things out on my own? As I grow older though, my love for them only deepens as I begin to recognize more and more the sacrifices they have made for me.
Despite all of this, I wouldn’t have wanted to be raised any other way. For everything that I missed or every aspect of Canadian society that my parents did not reflect, the gap was filled in some other way.
While I haven’t exactly embraced my traditional culture, being Iranian means just as much to me as being Canadian. I’m protective of it — no one can take that identity away from me. I recognize this as the pride my parents instilled in me ever since I was a child. Heck, my hand still stings from when my mom would whack me with a spoon if I spoke English to her instead of Farsi.
“Farsi at home,” she still reminds me. It’s one of the things we both agree on.