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March 27, 2020

For a child of Immigrant Parents Living Away From Family During Covid-19 hits the Heart extra Hard.

By Mitzi Salgado

For some of us, living away from home may not seem much of a big deal. Many can just skype their parents as needed. However, it is tragic, being away from family when you can’t see them regularly because of family separation, or you’re a child of immigrants and play an integral part of your family’s life. It’s tough for families who are already separated due to immigration-related causes and cannot see each other because of the quarantine.

I love my mom. She and I have a special bond I can’t explain. It’s not like we have unlimited things to talk about, it’s not that type of relationship. In fact, we don’t have to be saying anything. She could be scrolling on her phone while blasting Facebook stories at a restaurant while we eat together. It’s the kind of bond we have that it’s hard to relate to if you have never given your parent something special that they can’t get for themselves. I am not talking about the gift of parenthood,

I am talking about the gift of freedom, knowledge, and autonomy that we obtained together because of being children of immigrants.

Being the daughter of immigrant parents is deep

It’s more than just being a daughter. It’s the feeling of carrying your family on your back to survive. Don’t get me wrong. It is not a burden, nor is it some savior complex. It’s the weight of gallons of water one would carry in a backpack when trying to cross a desert on foot to an oasis. It is the kind of weight of survival and in search of success. It’s complex, filled with fulfillment and pride. It can hurt and pain one’s back and be the sweetest, the most fulfilling flavor of life. You know if you make it to the oasis, the thriving place you dreamed of, you all make it together.

It is translating complex documents about immigration that you are too young to understand. It’s the frustration of not knowing the words in English to deliver the message in Spanish. It is helping in the kitchen and helping clean the bathroom, living room, and the bedroom because mom is tired from work or cooking, doing the dirtiest chores, raising children, and dealing with cultural and gendered norms with their spouse. It is helping with the siblings, but also gossiping and translating even more documents.

Being the daughter of immigrant parents

It is going to the grocery store and translating for ordering chicken at the poultry section, perhaps asking for an item out of stock in the veggie section, translating the ingredients on the back of a product, translating the total cost of groceries at the checkout counter.

It is allowing mom to go to the grocery store and do something as simple as buying the necessary food to survive.

All of it is done through the power of language and navigating that access we take for granted, as first-generation children we learn at school.

It is guiding your parents with the GPS and helping with directions in a land where everything is in a foreign language. So, they can later learn to find a new job on their own or drive to farther places away from home.

It is helping your younger siblings with homework or arguing in English, so your parents don’t know you’re fighting (even though they know you are). As a result, dealing with dichotomous cultures’ consequences in one household and not speaking English at the table.

Being the daughter of immigrants

Being a daughter of immigrants is sacrificing quality family time, like, washing the dishes after dinner with mom and siblings without dad because he hasn’t gotten home from work. Then seeing dad get home hours later, perhaps much later after dinner. Seeing him come home worn down from his physical labor. Many of us have dads who work in construction, landscape, farming, the restaurant business. It is seeing your dad exposed to these toxic elements proved to cause cancer. A job that is aching and draining and doesn’t pay enough for groceries at places like Trader Joe’s or coffee at Starbucks.

Being a daughter of immigrants during the teenage years is not being let out because you are a girl. It is having to explain your actions to the T, going to mass on Sundays, and dressing prudently. It is staying in line, knows how to clean, and do basic cooking. It is being a good daughter and a good student and learning how to be a good student on your own without any resources at school because you live in a low-income neighborhood—having tight curfews and long sermons when talking back.

But the overwhelming humbling moment when seeing dad give you a $100 bill out of his work jeans with his rough brown hands to buy your college books. It is also getting a call during final’s week from mom and dad to tell you they drove to your college apartment (100+ miles away from home) and are outside to give you some tamales. They give you a big hug when they see you, have a suitcase with a change of clothes, your tamales, and spend the night.

Being the daughter of immigrants

When graduation comes, seeing your mom and dad’s tears pour down their cheeks, watching you walk across the commencement stage, and whispering to themselves that they are so proud of you.

It is calling from across the country to say, “I love you” during Corov-19 quarantine and dreaming of cuddling in the living room while you argue with your sibling in English over which show you’ll stream next.


Mitzi Salgado