Fighting for uncertainty

In a terse tone paired with a thick Filipino accent, my father once said, “Education is your only way out. You only have one shot at a prosperous life. Be smart.”

I was in third grade when I found out I was about to uproot what was left of my childhood in the Philippines to immigrate to Canada for a hopeful but uncertain better life.

The short time in between moving and being immersed in a new culture leaves no traces in my memory.

I was unable to fully comprehend what I had left behind at the time nor did I realize how much of an uphill struggle it would be until almost a decade later — when I left “home” for a second time to go to university.

Most people would think the hardest parts about trying to assimilate is changing your mannerisms or cultivating a “western” taste in clothing, food or art.

If you surround yourself with the right people, your taste will change in the span of a year.

If you pay enough attention, emulating your peers can speed up the process of fitting in.

The thing about being considered an outsider is the constant need to adapt and never looking like you aren’t in the “know.”

But optics, like wearing the right clothing or watching the most popular television shows, are miniscule in comparison to the underlying problems I was about to face.

The “real world” for an immigrant first-generation student with immigrant parents begins halfway through high school.

This is when more complex issues, unrelated to simple homework, fashion or drama, begin to emerge.

Big decisions on what programs to pursue, what schools to consider, how to fund my education and managing money fell into my own hands.

Upon reaching this point in my life, my parents supported whichever path I chose because they were only as informed as I was — with no experience in attending any post-secondary institutions in this country.

I wasn’t fully aware of where my talents would lie at the time, and could not foresee that I would waste a year being in the wrong program. When I overcame the first hurdle into independency, the second obstacle wasn’t far ahead.

It was then when I realized that although I looked the part, I was still distinctly different.

Finding opportunities like a summer job or a mentor became extremely difficult as my family and I did not have the resources to make connections in the field I was interested in pursuing.

Getting the grades I hoped for became difficult as I had to evenly split my time and energy between school, work, extra-curricular activities and earning enough money to cover all expenses with little guidance.

Having my parents’ hopes and dreams for a better life was a big weight to carry in conjunction with my own self-goals and expectations.

I put myself under immense pressure to be excellent at everything all the time as being highly educated was my only way out of a life of struggle due to little social capital. So in time I realized the big adjustment was not just about fitting in, but also working twice as hard to access opportunities using only my own merit.

This isn’t made to sound like a sad story. Being thrown into the unknown builds confidence and conviction. It’s a mark of strength.

I used to think I would always be at a disadvantage in comparison to those who had generations built on this land. But no matter how dark it gets, my dreams symbolize that “light” at the end of the tunnel. I am eternally committed.

They occupy my mind before I sleep and they linger with me when I wake. I romanticize no part of getting to where I want to be. I will be battered with days of hard work — just as I am now.

So, a better life is always within reach. You just have to fight like hell to earn it.

Leave a Reply