My Life as a First Generation Canadian

When my parents came to Canada, they had nothing. Both of my parents grew up in small villages in China, leaving everything and everyone behind when they planned to start their life anew. None of them received a post-secondary education and none of them understood English. When my mother arrived in Canada in her mid-twenties, she wanted to go to college and become a nurse. However, due to financial hardships, she had to give up on her dreams and find work immediately.

Fast-forward, and my sister and I were born. We grew up in Canada, we learned English, and we grew up in a foreign culture that my parents had a hard time grasping.

At a young age, my sister and I had to become independent. I was only in grade 2, and my sister was in grade 4. At this age we already had to help our parents, whether it was translating, helping them become informed about the world, or handling their financial papers, we had to do it all starting at the age of 6/9.

It’s not like they didn’t try to learn English – I recall my mom trying to attend adult English classes, but she had to give them up too because she eventually needed to work more hours and even overtime to ensure that there was enough money for our family. All my parents did was work, and all of it was for the future of the family. At the time I didn’t understand that.

I remember feeling so different growing up. Other kids always went on family vacations. They went to Disney World, Universal Studios, and even China. I recall thinking, “Damn, I wanted to go to Disney World.” My family vacations consisted of just walking around Niagara Falls because we didn’t have enough money to afford plane tickets or enough time to go anywhere else. I had never been on a plane before, and when I tell people, they are always in shock or thought that I was lying. When asked why, I just told them it was because my family was busy.

I wanted to go to Disney World.

I hated parent teacher night. I always had to be the translator between my parents and the teacher. I felt embarrassed that they couldn’t speak English.

I hated them, and I didn’t know why.

I hated “Take Our Kids to Work” Day. My parents weren’t doctors, nor did they work in some office. I was embarrassed to tell people what their careers were because they didn’t have enough education. I remembered I was so embarrassed that I just asked my teacher if I could shadow her for career day. That’s how I spent my day – not with my parents, but with my teacher.

Why couldn’t they have better jobs?

Fast-forward, and I’m in my final year of high school, with university applications on the horizon. To my family, it was a big deal because none of them had ever gone to university or college before. This was the dream that was promised to them when they left China: a better life for their kids. I got accepted to Western University and other schools as well. It was only after I accepted my offer and started my university career that I finally understood what my parents went through.To a lot of people, going to university or college is just another stepping stone in life. To people like my family, it was everything.

I learned that all my parents wanted was for my sister and I to be happy. They didn’t want us going through the same hardships as them. My parents worked all the time and gave up family vacations and other nice things just so my sister and I could have whatever we wanted. My sister wanted piano lessons. She got them. I wanted to learn the violin. They paid for it. My parents paid for our braces so that we could smile more confidently.

They made so many sacrifices and I hate myself for realizing it so late.

My sister now works downtown and my parents are so proud. I’m still working my way through university but I know I can catch up to her soon.

To my parents: I’m sorry for being embarrassed about your careers. I’m sorry that I hated you for not knowing English. I’m sorry for not being thankful enough.

I will continue trying to make you guys proud, and I’m going to pay back what you gave me, tenfold.

Thank you for going through all that hardship just so that I could be happy.

Oh, and by the way, I finally went on my first plane ride.