Identity, Life

My immigrant parents want me to live out the American Dream. What if I don’t succeed?

I wanted to prove that my family did not immigrate to the United States in vain.

When he arrived at my freshman university orientation, my dad was beaming with pride.

For weeks before move-in day, he had been telling his friends and our neighbors that he and my mom were about to take me to my first year of college. I was excited for this new chapter in my life, but he was on an entirely different level.

Neither of my parents attended traditional universities, so when my siblings and I were accepted it was a big deal, especially for my dad.

They wanted to find a different kind of opportunity for our families and future generations. Click To Tweet

My mom and dad’s families immigrated from the Philippines to the United States when they were both kids. When U.S. immigration laws were relaxed, there were immense job opportunities for Filipino nurses, an opportunity my paternal grandma jumped at.

My dad made sure to tell us about the struggles he and his family faced as immigrants in the United States. When they arrived, they lived in a one-bedroom apartment in New York until they could afford a place of their own. My grandma was forced to work odd hours at two different jobs for financial stability.

But he wanted a different future for my siblings and me.

My family always held healthcare professions in high esteem. So many of my family members were nurses or doctors in the Philippines, and for a while, I thought I would be pigeonholed into the field. Even though I have immense respect for healthcare professionals, I never wanted to be one.

Instead, I wanted to be a writer.

Since I was a kid, I've had a penchant for storytelling. Click To Tweet

Since I was a kid, I’ve had a penchant for storytelling. You would always find me scribbling away at a sketchbook or writing short stories on my computer. I knew I wanted to change the world through storytelling, but whenever I expressed the slightest interest in making a career out it, my dad would dramatically retort with, “you’ll starve and live in poverty.”

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As much as I wanted to pursue this non-traditional path, I took my dad’s words personally. I wanted to prove to my family that they did not immigrate in vain. I had internalized that it was my obligation to “do better,” as my dad so often put it.

I started my first year in college on the pre-med track, because I was trying to live up to my familial expectations.

But my first semester academically was miserable. I got a C- in an introductory chemistry course and was on the verge of failing pre-calculus. Although I eventually dropped out of the pre-med track, I was so obsessed with making my dad proud that I pursued nursing instead, which once again, I hated.

I wanted to prove that my family did not immigrate to the United States in vain. Click To Tweet

I tried convincing myself that this was what I wanted because this was what my dad wanted for me. I joined health organizations and I even watched Grey’s Anatomy in a haphazard attempt to get excited about the field.

I fell into a deep bout of depression later that year. This new chapter of my life had turned into a period of dread, and I hated myself for it. I felt utterly confused, misguided, and unfulfilled. I wanted so badly to make my family proud and assure them that their struggles as immigrants were not forgotten, but I did so at the expense of my own happiness.

I turned things around when I realized that I couldn’t live in a constant state of doubt and discontent anymore. I needed to listen to my intuition, which was pointing me to journalism. So I started seeing a therapist, writing for the school newspaper and taking journalism courses. Eventually, I officially declared myself a journalism major, which was one of the best decisions I had ever made for myself.

My dad somehow knew that a career in healthcare was never in the cards for me. Click To Tweet

I didn’t tell my dad that I changed my major until my last year of college. I was terrified to tell the person who made me feel guilty about my choices that I was pursuing the very path he’d warned against. It wasn’t until a car ride with my dad when he asked me point blank what I was studying.

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With more confidence than I thought I was capable of, I told him the truth.

I like to think my dad eventually accepted that the healthcare field was never in the cards for me too because he didn’t freak out. Maybe years of me living independently softened him, but in his stern yet understanding way, he simply said “okay” and asked what he could do to help. In that moment, I knew my non-traditional career path didn’t change how proud he was of me for simply following my own path.

Instead of feeling guilty for my life, I now feel empowered. Click To Tweet

I’m preserving my family’s legacy by carving my own path for myself that will afford me my own version of success and happiness.

I’m so grateful for my diaspora roots and my family’s sacrifices, and this will certainly influence my perspective as a journalist. But instead of feeling guilty for what I’m pursuing in my life, I now feel empowered and self-assured by it.

Alicia Soller

Alicia Soller

Alicia Soller is a first generation-born Filipinx American digital storyteller committed to uplifting the narratives of communities of color. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received her B.S. in Journalism and began her involvement with community organizing. She currently does freelance writing, marketing and design work with non-profit organizations.

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