Who Answers Burning Questions For The Children Of Immigrants?

By Elaine Dove

I wonder about the girls and boys I see during the day at my once-a-week volunteer gig at a local school. Most of “my kids” at the school are the sons and daughters of immigrant parents, the sons and daughters of change. Many of them are undocumented. They’re in middle school, entering that time of life where suddenly the question of relationships, and dating, and how you do all that, starts to become extremely important.

And their folks from the Old Country often aren’t on board with how to help their inquisitive, cell-phone-enabled, Facebooking kids with those questions.

As anyone who works with adolescents can tell you, it’s a dicey proposition to let adolescents get most of their information about sex, love, and the world from other adolescents. But what are their parents to do? Their parents are trying to find work and trying to stay off the radar and trying to give their kids a better life. They don’t have the time, the energy or the resources to educate little Katia or Joaquín about all the things kids are wondering about at that age — that, of course, is where someone like me supposedly comes in.

However, I notice that there are very few people like me, very few sons and daughters of change, volunteering in the community outreach program. The vast majority of the volunteers are white, middle class Americans with very little experience with the issues and challenges facing first and second generation immigrant families. It’s what’s called a “known issue,” meaning that everyone knows it’s a problem but no one seems to have much of a solution for it. I do what I can. I tell kids that the time they spend with me is a safe place where they can ask questions about anything they’re wondering about. As it turns out, the sons and daughters of change have a lot of questions.

They live in two worlds — that of school and that of home. I don’t tell them that many of the questions they are wondering about, in terms of love and relationships, are the exact same questions I hear from the children of immigrants in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Some of them are universal — who am I?  What does it mean to love or not to love someone? How do I find my way in life? Others, more poignant, are “our” questions. What does it mean to be Vietnamese, Mexican, Persian, Jewish, Nigerian, Taiwanese, Colombian? Who am I in relationship to these questions? Why didn’t the people who raised me help me more with all of this? These are the questions that haunt, that continue to shape and unfold identity far beyond these fleeting years. And the shame of “not knowing” what other kids know must be cleared and lifted in order for the sons and daughters of change to truly be ourselves.

And then there’s me. Asian but not Asian — that’s me. Am I a bridge between worlds? I consider myself an American, but what do I look like to them? I wonder about that. I’m aware of their quiet, but intent faces, the lightning-fast information download of the adolescent brain. I know they wonder about me. They probably don’t realize that I wonder just as much about them.

Elaine Dove is an artist and healer living in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit her blog.

[Photo By icanteachyouhowtodoit]

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