Being the Daughter Of Immigrants Taught Me The Luxury Of Dreaming
My father was born in a very small town in Sicily, in 1950. He was the youngest of seven children and stopped going to school at age 10 so he could work and provide for his family. With a fifth-grade education and little life experience beyond his work on a small farm, my father came to the United States in 1966, and achieved the quintessential American dream.
My mother’s journey was different but no less influential in my life. She moved to the States at 19 and worked as a waitress, and met my father at the restaurant she worked at. At only 20 years old, she decided to marry my father and move here for good, with a huge amount of bravery and trust in my father.
My sisters and I are the proud daughters of two Italian immigrants, who taught us that nothing is beyond our reach with hard work. Everything I know about life and achieving my dreams, I learned from my parents. But when it comes to the measure of success, my father’s journey had the ability to make me feel guilty about having those dreams at all.
My father makes no secret that he values hard work and persistence above anything else, save for family. He raised each of us to work hard from a young age and to excel in our academics so we could have a career that pays well and be financially responsible for life. Saving money, working hard, and practicing humility were drilled into us from an early age. Since I was a child, I thought having dreams was a luxury. And it is—all my parents had for a dream was to survive in this country and build a life. They didn’t have the opportunity to choose a different dream.
I have the luxury of choosing a dream. And it’s that which makes me feel guilty.
In college, I felt guilty for choosing English as a major over my mother’s request to choose Business or Accounting. I felt guilty when my father paid for the entire expensive college education, knowing that all I wanted to do was write, something I could potentially do with no degree at all. And after graduation, I felt doubly guilty for not securing a job right away. Instead, I applied to unpaid writing positions, started a blog, lived at home, and completely rejected their idea that any job was better than no job at all.
I have the luxury of saying no to opportunities I don’t want, to jobs outside my field I simply don’t want to work, of relying on my parents for a place to live while I try to be successful as a writer and struggle, knowing that I will never have to struggle as much as they did simply to live. I have everything they worked so hard for all their lives, without having to do any of the effort. I have the luxury of dreaming, and they did not.
At 23, I have lived my whole life with the knowledge that I was free to dream, and all the while I’ve felt guilty for feeling like I was rejecting all the lessons my parents taught me: to get a good job and work hard. Even though I undoubtedly do work hard, I have also lived with the knowledge that because of my parents’ struggle, I will never have to endure what they did.
I suppose there isn’t any real reason to feel guilty for the circumstances I was born in; I couldn’t help it any more than my parents could, and I don’t necessarily apologize for having the privileges I have. But the knowledge that my life will differ from my parents because of the things they gave me is, if nothing else, motivation for me to give back.
My father is a music buff; he knows all the minutiae about classic rock from the 50s to the 90s, and in his spare time, creates playlists and mixes of his favorite music any radio DJ would envy. On the other hand, my mother loves real estate and design, and harbors a dream of being a real estate agent. She came close to it once, only to give it up to pursue something easier and more financially sound.
Lately, I’ve thought that the only way I can repay them for the life they’ve given me is to try to help them reach their dreams, their goals. They’ve taught me the value of hard work; now I can maybe give them the luxury of dreaming of something big.