There’s a certain wistfulness when I look in your eyes. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotions that swirled through your mind as you left the shores of your home and stepped on a land that would never be yours. The promise of a better life, the idea that everything would be okay, the hope that your family would thrive in what you weren’t aware was really a house of cards.
Living with immigrant parents is tough, in more ways than one. It’s a whole swirl of emotions, a whole host of problems, a whole identity in of itself. So many pressures, so many highs and lows, laughs and tears, joys and frustrations — all borne out of the experience of having immigrant parents.
I was born to two immigrant parents. My mother is Nigerian, my father Congolese, and they migrated to the United Kingdom in the late 1990s. I was born and brought up in London, a melting pot of cultures, nationalities and ethnicities. The multi-faceted centre of the old imperial nation, existing and navigating through ethnic enclaves whilst simultaneously engaging with the various barriers of reality of life in the United Kingdom.
Our identity. Who are we? Many of us with immigrant parents find ourselves constantly battling with problems of identity, imposter syndrome, and discomfort as to where exactly our identity lies.
We sit close enough to our heritage to eat the food, know and understand bits of the language (if we are lucky) and share in the jokes that these cultures produce. But going back there — can you really call it home?
Your clothes are different, your accent is off, you have a bit of relative privilege. Is it really…home?
Some of us can’t even speak the language. I used to get angry at my parents and wonder why they never taught us to be fully-functioning trilinguals.
But I realised the burden of assimilation and ensuring their children were never looked at as different loomed large over their heads. The realities of access and linguistic capital hung over their heads constantly. I still tilt my head, slightly saddened when I hear my mother put on her best british accent when dealing with the bank, or the trying to book an appointment, or some other mundane pursuit.