The Effects of Immigration: Is It Better or Worse for the Kids?

Moving to the developed world sounds like a great plan. Comparing to the developing world, immigrating to developed countries will automatically grant people the privileges that they might not have before: healthcare, education, you name it.

Yet everything came with a price: Immigrating to another country will perhaps bring them better opportunities both economically and socially, but families and individuals who are developed to step on the path also face trade-offs. Leaving for another country may not necessarily mean a better life: It varies depending on the ability of the individuals. It takes time for people to adapt to new cultures, social norms, and rules in the new environment. And from time to time, immigrants may also face obstacles brought by stereotypes and prejudices from the society and the communities that they live in.

For adult immigrants, the process of integration could be longer and more difficult. The existing cultural and language barriers could possibly make this a life-long journey for those coming into a new country in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Seeing these tasks almost as hard as ‘mission impossible’, adult immigrants are starting to focus more on their children, who move along with them to a new country at a rather young age. The assumption here is clear: With no language or social barriers, these kids will thrive in the new society that they live in. They should be able to perform better, if not far better, than their parents’ generation.

But, is this actually the case?

It might be true that younger immigrants and children may not face the same struggles that their parents or adult immigrants face. Educated in local schools and having local friends, they definitely will not see as much of the cultural and language barriers as their previous generations. Yet not having the same struggles does not necessarily mean that these younger ones have no problems at all. And for these individuals, the issues may be more difficult to identify and solve: Born in immigrant families, the second-generation immigrants are more likely to experience cultural shocks instead of cultural barriers. They are different in the way that, they are more likely to hear different things from their parents and from schools. It is hard to form their own identities, and that could lead to a more serious issue: identity crisis.

It is unfortunate, but their accent-free language skills and education experience do not give them the exemptions from baseless stereotypes and discriminations. From time to time, they are becoming victims of wrongful perceptions and untrue anecdotes. Yet for these second-generation immigrants, they do not feel aligned or empowered with their parents’ native cultures. The perceived homeland is also a place that is far away: They do not speak the native language, they do not share many of the values of their mother countries, and most importantly, these countries are not their home nor the place that they grow up. There is no emotional bonding, nor is there any forms of ideological beliefs.

It is a problem that many potential immigrants tend to neglect. They assume that they are making huge sacrifice for their children to receive a better education with better future prospects, abandoning their careers and their job opportunities. However, these may not be necessarily appreciated by their children: While they might have solved some of the existing problems that exist in their native countries, they are also creating new issues that their children need to face in a new country and in their new lives.

A Canadian artist named Domee Shi directed the Oscar-winning short animation move Bao. Released in 2018, the short movie presented a story that explained the predicament that immigrant parents see in their children and their views on parenting. The over-caring and over-parenting depicted in the movie are certainly raising a few points to take note: While some children appreciate the efforts and sacrifices that their parents made, these may not help the kid in achieving the best outcome that they can get. Such conflicts and misunderstandings are also presented in other film or TV works, such as the renowned show “Fresh off the Boat”.

While looking at peers around me, I find the stories presented in Bao certainly a reflection of those growing up in traditional Asian families. Their parents are having very contradictory thoughts when it comes to parenting, integration, and public affairs. On the one hand, their parents feel the need for integration, realize that their chances in the new country were limited because of their lack of language skills, so that they push their kids to work hard in schools and try to eliminate potential factors that could impede their children from speaking English. Yet, on the other hand, their parents are hoping that their kids could preserve some traditional Asian heritage: They limit the time that their children hang out. They do not tend to believe in progressive policies. When it comes to social issues, their attitudes are leaning towards the conservatives.

It leaves their kids baffled and confused. Their identities at schools are vastly different from that at home. Their different opinions will eventually lead to greater conflicts with their parents. And clearly, the kids are not the ones to blame. It is their parents who want their children to become better integrated, however are not ready to accept the outcomes of successful integration in other areas.

Starting a new life and thriving in another country will never be an easy job. For parents who are investing so much energy, efforts, and costs to the process, it is essential for them to have the right expectations and the right ways to approach these issues. Instead of having a ‘traditional parenting strategy’ that is more aligned with their countries of origin, it is better to embrace things and be open-minded. This could make it easier for their childrento accept the identity that they inherit, and make them less vulnerable and disoriented on their paths of growing up.

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