“You won’t have enough time for that.”
I sat across from my high school principal as she turned down my plan to give my graduation speech in English and Spanish. I couldn’t really fight back in the moment, thinking the time limit was very strict. I had a backup plan but was still unhappy that I couldn’t give my speech the way I had wanted to.
What had upset me the most was that what she was telling me in that moment was something I had been telling myself for a large part of my childhood: I didn’t have enough time for my parents. I didn’t have enough time to translate for them at parent-teacher conferences or doctor’s appointments. I didn’t have enough time to send an email for them or scan a document to be sent to Colombia. I didn’t even have enough time during my graduation speech for my own parents to understand what I was saying.
Having my principal deny my request to read my speech in English and Spanish helped me realize I took my parents for granted way more than I’m proud of. I thought we were experiencing the same things, but what I realize now is that my parents and I were growing up in the same household but in two different worlds. This Harvard education has given me the language to explain this, to explain the generation gap within my family. Though my parents and I all came around the same time, the gap of immigrating as children versus immigrating as adults shaped our experiences.
The spring of my freshman year, I took my first immigration class and learned the term “1.5 generation.” This describes people who immigrated before the age of 12. Before learning this, I had always considered myself a first-generation immigrant like my parents. Our immigrant identification and immigration status were supposed to connect us. We had a shared experience—a shared struggle.
It was only after learning more about what it meant to be part of the 1.5 generation myself that I started noticing just how much this generation gap presented itself in my life. I migrated with my mom and siblings when I was three years old. My dad came before us. My parents and I were destined to have different levels of difficulty navigating this country. While my parents did not have the opportunity to fully learn English, I was able to learn it in school. I was able to learn how to be American and speak this new language without an accent.
My siblings and I became everything my parents wished for us. They migrated to this country just so they could provide a better education for us. They lived vicariously through us. We went off to college and accomplished their goals. We became what they wanted us to become—but in the process, we grew further and further apart from them on our way to success.
I remember often being angry growing up because I felt like my parents were wasting my time. I was upset that they weren’t able to provide transportation for me. We grew up without a car because my parents didn’t want to risk driving without a license. I remember fighting with my siblings over who got stuck translating for my parents or teaching them how to use technology. I remember getting angry at them for wasting our precious time; now, I know very well how selfish I was being.
When the tables were turned, no request was too large for them. After all, they had left everything they had for us. They had left their family and home to give us the opportunity for a better future. We always came first.
For that, I’ve been working on being more grateful for the people who gave me life and the education I always thought I worked for on my own. I’ve been working on holding myself more accountable in acknowledging all I was able to do because of my parents. I’ve been trying to recognize where the generation gap most continues to manifest itself today.
On the day of my graduation, I dedicated a section of my speech to my parents, given in Spanish. Although I couldn’t give the whole thing in Spanish, I translated the speech for them to read themselves. They were responsible for my success, and deserved a million times more than I was able to give them.
I am now working on showing my appreciation for my parents by trying my best to integrate them into my studies. With the generation and language gap, it can be a bit difficult sometimes to explain what I’m studying. But after investing so much of their lives into me, it’s the least I can do. I may not have the exact language to explain things like fellowships, grants, or immigration theory in Spanish, but I’ll use the language they gave me as best I can to bring our worlds closer together.
Laura S. Veira-Ramírez ’20, a Crimson editorial editor, is a History and Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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