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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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Badroos: The Privilege of Pressure

Pressure creates diamonds, and the land of opportunity is shining bright despite the dreams of its immigrant children.
Image by Ava Weinreis

American universities offer an extraordinary amount of options and career choices for young academics. However, they come at a cost for first-generation students. Students who are first-generation immigrants are often expected to sacrifice for their families and abandon their personal dreams in favor of what their parents want.

Medicine, law and engineering have become the trifecta of acceptable career choices for the often-stereotyped immigrant family with a child in college. After all, Baba didn’t cross the sea for his son to become an actor.

Hollywood has a history of targeting immigrant parents as hard noses about their children’s career goals. How many times have we seen the storyline of the Indian daughter who wants to become an independent musician against her father’s wishes? Maybe just once, in “Lemonade Mouth,” but you get the point.

This Hollywood stereotype of the stickler immigrant parent stigmatizes immigrant parenting. But, for once, it would be nice if a hero’s arc wasn’t necessary for a first-generation student to pursue a career in the arts.

The pressure to give up one’s life for the next generation is ingrained in first-generation students across the country. Being a child of immigrants comes with guilt, even when it comes to something as pressing as an individual’s career and life path. Under this pressure, it’s hard to stay true to one’s aspirations without feeling selfish.

For Carol Boules, a third-year biology student at the University of Minnesota, this pressure could not be more palpable.

“I grew up in an immigrant household. Career choices were ingrained in my brain as a top priority,” Boules said. “My choices were limited; I could be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, according to my parents. They made it clear that anything else would be unsatisfactory to them.”

But, even as she pursues a degree in biology, she’s not sure it’s right for her.
“I’ve had doubts about the path I’ve chosen, wanting to explore other ventures such as art,” she said.

The unpredictability in fields of study like film, theater or other arts programs is a luxury most first-generation students cannot afford. The relative precarity of these career paths can intimidate those who came to this country for the safety and assurance of a stable life.

“I feel like I need to do what they’ve expected of me in order to be successful in their eyes,” Boules said of her parents. “They’ve sacrificed so much for my siblings and I. The least I can do is pursue a highly acclaimed and stable career, right?”

She continued, “I don’t think I will be successful in my own eyes until I can give my parents what they want.”

Children of immigrants continue to pursue areas of expertise that greatly support their communities while cutting the lifespans of their dreams shorter than most. The sacrifices of their fathers and mothers allowed them to flourish in a way that could never be possible in their motherlands.

We didn’t choose for this pressure to be placed on us; the dreamers just got the short end of the stick.

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