We never forget where we came from
The beauty of naming ceremonies, traditional engagements, Saturday morning runs to the African market, having to help make Jollof rice in the kitchen when you’d rather be at the movies, being startled awake by our parents’ 5 am phone calls across the Atlantic to inquire about a house that’s been under construction for decades – all of these memories remind of the importance of home. They make us aware that our current circumstances are temporary and that we have options.
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Knowing that all circumstances are temporary strengthens us in stressful life and career situations. Change and curveballs don’t knock us off our A-game for long because we’ve been practicing adaptability and resilience since we could remember.
We’re able to see multiple perspectives
First-genners are expert chameleons. As young children, we learned to read between the lines. By deciphering what mom meant when she communicated with “talking eyes”, we practiced recognizing multiple meanings, multiple realities, multiple frameworks. We learned on a daily basis to identify details in our environment and quickly assess what was expected of us in each situation: home, school, church, friendships and work.
That constant need to read the environment, read our parents and put ourselves in our parent’s shoes sometimes gave us practice at being adults. First-genners have paid mortgages online for our parents long before we stepped foot in high school. We translated documents and completed college applications without our parents’ help. Adulting at an early age was necessary, which was helpful for our growth but nipped our childhood innocence.
Nevertheless, the ability to move seamlessly from child’s play to adult responsibilities at a young age gives us the ability to see issues from multiple perspectives. I credit this experience for my ability to quickly root out the cause of an issue at work, frame responses that appeal to both parties and coordinate moving parts of a project. I’m compassionate and can understand when people are struggling.
There’s a fancy word for this compassionate understanding – emotional intelligence – and it’s touted as the supposed key to being a successful leader. Some people pay consultants thousands of dollars to help them achieve emotional intelligence. Little did we know that our parents were giving us a Harvard education at home while we sulked about not being allowed to sleepover at Nikki’s and Denise’s house down the street.
I could go on about how coming from an immigrant household shapes our success, but you would be reading for a while. So I’ll leave you with this: We are no longer children trying to understand a foreign country and culture; we are now adults who have learned or are learning to merge our African culture with our American lives. We’re thriving and we’re beating the odds. What rings true is this: if we take as much risk and have as much optimism for our futures as our parents did when they emigrated to the West, we will always be on the winning side of fate.