By Nick Moncy
For RISE NEWS
The term second-generation, as shown by a quick Google search, is an adjective “denoting the offspring of parents who have immigrated to a particular country”.
What factors drive people to move to another country? For a variety of reasons: to earn money for family battling poverty and sickness, for better opportunities for their children and themselves, to escape war and persecution. There are many other motives as well, but what most actions share are the selfless and brave motives behind them.
My own parents immigrated to South Florida from Haiti in their thirties to expand their horizons, graciously happening to find each other, fall in love and marry, and have my older sister and me.
Their hard work and sacrifice has carried us through school, my sister through graduating college as last May, and through endless extracurricular activities and personal ventures.
However, with that unconditional love comes unconditional expectations from their culture, many of which clash with those of prosperous countries like the United States that we also strive to embody. This leaves second-gen individuals feeling trapped between two insistent worlds, yet assuming this spot has allowed me to admire both sides.
In a traditional household, the rituals carried over create a rigid atmosphere. The parent’s native language is usually primarily spoken and heard in media outlets, cuisine revolves around their native tastes, and their expectations reflect those they were issued growing up.
Some basic ones are common – putting school and family first, learning your native tongue (Creole for me), and looking presentable to exude a sense of composure. There is, in fact, a barbershop on every block in just about every Haitian town, at least it seems that way.
When all you have is yourself, you must be your best self according to that logic.
But there are some cultural themes that do not carry over so smoothly. Emotions show weakness, immaturity and lack of self-control. You are your gender and sex and you will not deviate.
Your complaints pale to the immense pains your ancestors endured, so it’s no use. Mental illness is an illusion – you’re just afraid to try hard. You will wear what your parents tell you to wear, and think what they want you to think, or you are disobedient. You might even get compared to your friends who conform and feel ashamed. You lose the ability to believe in your own convictions.
When all you have is yourself, you must be your worst self is the sad reality.
The grand, overlying difference I have observed is others versus self. In rural parts of Haiti, where the heart of Haitian culture beats loudest, individualism simply does not exist. Family members put others before themselves – using free time to aid parents with laborious tasks, plowing fields, mentoring the young, caring for the old. There’s no “paying you back”. Or “chasing your dream” – that is perceived as a luxury.
Here in the United States though, being yourself is highly encouraged. Saying what’s on your mind, free speech, self-actualization. We have technology to provide access to an infinite amount of information and exposure to many ways of life around the world, which enriches our perspective and increases our tolerance for exploration.
Even in college, most students have the freedom to choose the field that resonates with them. When your family remains in the back of your mind, and you feel the gnawing conviction to return the favor, to bring honor, and your friends back home did what they were told and brought that honor, doesn’t it feel like an unseen power is forcing your hand the other way?
Ultimately you may feel guilty for following your heart, even though no beaten path –doctor, engineer, lawyer – worked out for you.
“Although tradition seems to control us like puppets, a predetermined course, it is truly up to us to steer our fates.”- Nick Moncy
“Being successful, you ponder, is the “paying you back” that I’m missing”.
Even your peers who’ve assimilated into American culture will look down on you at times for not keeping up with milestones – not being caught up with the latest episodes of American Idol (R.I.P) or sports, not being manly enough (which is an issue on both fronts), not flowing with the crowd.
And guess what? Other second-gens from your ethnic group will mock you too, for not repping your roots or knowing your language or not visiting your motherland yet. Oh boy! The pursuit of perfection, unfortunately, is widespread.
All reasonable people will ask for, like my parents, is to perform the best you can at whatever you are doing. Although tradition seems to control us like puppets, a predetermined course, it is truly up to us to steer our fates. However, our heritages compose a significant part of who we are today and explain how our circumstances came to be.
As I grew older, I saw the other side of the gourde (Haitian currency): parents usually aren’t narcissistic or obsessed – they just don’t want their cultures to dissipate, to be lost, and that is why they clench so dearly to what they know.
To what they are.
And I’ve been able to understand, or at least try to, just what that is. For two weeks this June I trekked all over Haiti with my family to see both family and our motherland. I dove into the core of the island and despite facing the unknown, the links between this world and the one back home became crystal clear.
I finally feel at peace in this gray area, and for that I am grateful. I now believe in my potential to uphold my family’s future legacy by being there for them –plus, I personally want to help Haiti at a future point – but the only way to accomplish that goal is to settle into the person I’ve envisioned myself to be. And that person, I hope, will be as courageous and righteous as my family members.
If you’re a second-generation person like me, I encourage you to discover your past and find your own balance in the present – the experience has proven to be fulfilling. And for goodness’s sake, don’t wipe your hands on the fancy towels. They’re there for decoration.
Cover Photo Credit: Nick Moncy/RISE NEWS
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