An essay for fellow immigrant parents
by Dr. Leila Rosa
Like you I am a parent. There are no manuals.
Advice from others comes mostly in times of crisis. Many judge what we do and often are unkind as we navigate many sleepless nights and hectic days. For us, immigrant parents, the worries come with many fears. Immigrant parents often wonder if their values and beliefs will take root with their children As an immigrant to the US who was born in Cabo Verde and raised in Portugal, I have wondered if my children will accept my ways and be someone like me, or will they distance themselves from me based on an upbringing in such a different context? Will they be embarrassed of who I am because my country is not like theirs? Will they be curious to discover the history of my country? Will they even acknowledge their background to their friends, or simply state, “I am an American.”
My children were born and raised in Tampa, Florida. I was floored during a visit to Brockton, Massachusetts, when, after hearing two teenagers talking in Cape Verdean at a McDonald’s, my then seven-year old son in an excited state announced to my six year old that Cabo Verde does exist and I had not “made the place up.”
When I asked him why he thought I had made Cabo Verde up, he quickly responded that no teacher had ever talked about it and he had never seen it on a map.
I then realized that in this country, if I don’t teach my children about Cabo Verde they will not know it
s existence and consequently will not know me! I remember being invaded by sadness. Since then, I have worked extra hard to make Cabo Verde visible to them. You see it is not about Cabo Verde, but it is about my lived reality disappearing for them. My struggles and my conquests are not relevant to them if they do not know where I came from! How can they fully value who I am, how much I have overcome if they cannot even identify on a map where I came from?
Years later, as they approach adulthood, I want them to find life partners, but I quietly fear their partners accept me and my background but fear they will not. My children were born in America; I was not. I have an accent that differs from theirs. So, when it comes time to meet me, what will their partners think? Being a parent is difficult. Being an immigrant parent of a child born in America adds another layer to the difficulties.
Given my experiences as an immigrant parent, I have dedicated my life to understanding the American educational system and to sharing with other parents what I have learned.
If you are a parent, let me begin by saying THANK YOU for all that you do! I know the sacrifices, the tears, and the fears…I have been there… I am still there! THANK YOU- because I know you do a lot!