Letter to My Immigrant Parents


Art by Aldwin Li, staff artist

Mama and Papa. My parents. The people that left behind their country, family, and life to come to the U.S. In 2006, my father, a scientist, got an offer to move to California to work in his field. Having recently completed his PhD, married, and with two children, my dad sought out the best opportunity for our little family, even if it meant moving to a completely different country.  So, in March of 2007, my parents picked up their life in the small country of Israel, parted with my grandparents and relatives, and relocated to life in the U.S.


Mama. It was difficult enough for you to take care of us while juggling your work and life in Israel. In the U.S., you became a stay at home mother, taking care of your children full time, ensuring we had a parent with us at home while Papa was at work. Not only this, but you overcame a language barrier at the same time. You were constantly improving on your English, your third language. As I instantly picked up English, I could never understand why you had difficulty with pronunciation, or asked me to help out with writing certain words when I was seven. I used to complain about having to speak Russian at home even when I was babbling in English on the playground at school. Now I understand why language was so important for you to preserve, to keep a piece of our family, culture, and history here in the U.S. After we grew up a little, you picked up your degree from life before and went to work, always on phone calls and writing emails, and still taking care of my brother and I, as if we were those same small children, even though we are teenagers now.


Papa. You built a life here for us! As a scientist, you always had a lot of work and projects to work on. I still can’t understand any of the terms, books, programming language, or charts that I always see on your computer. Yet, you always found time to participate in my activities, learning about the culture here. In kindergarten, you volunteered to sit and teach my class about Hanukkah, bringing in our little golden menorah from home. Despite being busy, you always made sure to pick me up from sports, piano, and whatever extra-curricular I was consumed with at the time. I treasure our walks, full of philosophical conversation and even the gossip from my life that I love to bother you with.  


Yes, at times it was frustrating for me, growing up knowing that I’m a child of immigrants. Having to explain words and phrases when they were misunderstood. Wondering why hard work and success was always expected out of me, why I couldn’t slack when I was mad. When I was made fun of in second grade for bringing in Russian food, and from then on asked my mom to pack me “normal” lunches to avoid the embarrassment. Why was I expected to only speak Russian at home, and got scolded for not doing so?


But I’ve learned to be proud. I’m proud that I have a rich cultural upbringing, full of language and tradition. I’m proud that I get to have the delicious dishes of Eastern Europe and Israel, from my favorite Romanian Plăcintă, to the North-African Shakshuka we have every Saturday. I’m immersed in the languages of Russian and Hebrew, watching the Israeli comedy show Zehu Ze! every week, to growing up with my favorite Russian cartoons of Three from Prostokvashino.

Learning about music! Introducing me to Mashina Vremeni as a baby, with songs that I know by heart. Offering the wonders of Kaveret, Aviv Geffen and Arik Einstein. 


Most importantly, I’m proud of the values I’ve learned. Despite my incessant complaining to people that I have strict parents, I appreciate the standards that have been implemented in my life. I know to always strive for success, and as you both like to remind me, to achieve a better life than the generation before me. Knowing to accept and love others. To tolerate and show kindness to people, regardless of racial background, religion, or sexual orientation. To know the difference between right and wrong, and recognize the issues around the world today. To become a hard-working, independent young adult and seek after new opportunities. I can’t openly say that I would be the same person if it weren’t for the disciplines and teachings that my parents have brought upon me, as I am a first generation American teen growing up in a world full of turbulent issues. 


I know that I have family back in Israel and around the world.  My parents often tell stories about their youth, growing up in a different time and country, stories that I have heard many times before. I’ve visited Israel, seeing cousins and relatives at big family gatherings. I even sometimes wonder what life would have been like if we still lived in Israel; coming back to California, we return to regular life as a small family of four, busy with activities, friends and life. 


So thank you, Mama and Papa. Thank you for the opportunity you have given to our family. For overcoming barriers to ensure we have a good life here. For maintaining a cultural connection through language, food, film and music. For keeping us closely connected to our family, despite the distance. For raising me in the way you did.


#family #immigrants #culture #editorial #israel #firstgenerationamerican


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