Immigrants are the heart and soul of the United States. They always have been, and they always will be.
Their greatest influence starts at home. While enriching society as a whole, immigrants instill their most defining values in their children. Each new generation carries the torch of these values, forging futures built on the principles of the past.
While teaching their kids how to live and work, immigrant parents reveal the most important lesson: how to assimilate in the U.S. while preserving their connection to their homeland.
Drawing on the personal memories of several first-generation U.S. residents, here are 3 Lessons Immigrant Parents Teach Their Kids:
1. Always Remember When You Came From
Moving apartments is demanding enough. As for moving to the other side of the world? That’s as overwhelming as it gets.
As a child of Chinese immigrants, writer Crystal Shao reflects on the challenges her parents faced in coming to the United States:
“Moving to a completely new country halfway across the world is hard — like, really hard. My dad was determined to make a better life for himself and his family…taking test after test and applying to graduate schools in the U.S. until he finally got accepted. That was his ticket to success.”
But Crystal’s parents didn’t leave China for economic opportunity alone. They fled to escape civil unrest, food shortages, and a lack of access to electricity. While amazed by her parents’ determination, Crystal was most shaped by their eternal optimism:
“Never once have I ever heard my parents speak of their past with even a hint of bitterness…I see true strength in them, and they never fail to remind me that people are capable of so much.”
Immigrant parents are living proof to their kids that adversity can be overcome through perseverance and optimism. When your children encounter obstacles in their adult life, they will remember where you came from, what hardships you endured, and how bravely you overcame them.
2. Embrace a Strong Work Ethic
Immigrants drive economies for one reason: they work really hard.
Ligia Cushman, whose mother and father came to America from the Dominican Republic, remembers how busy her parents always were:
“If she wasn’t learning English, [my mom] was working two jobs, attending college…my step-father still gets up every morning at 4 a.m. to go to work.”
Ligia recalls that her step-father always told her, “Hay que trabajar” (“we must work”). He meant this not just as a means of pursuing financial opportunity, but as a key part of maintaining one’s reputation and integrity in the workforce. “He reminded me that at the end of the day in our career, all we have is our word.”
That same motivation fueled Tani Estefy’s parents who migrated from El Salvador. Both Tani’s mother and father developed an entrepreneurial spirit.”
While Tani’s grandmother watched her, her father maintained three different jobs and her mother worked a full time job, and in the evenings, she made children’s clothes and “mini quinceanera cupcake dresses” to supplement the family income.
Tani recalls, “they never once complained…my parents were teaching me about entrepreneurship.” As her parents went on to establish and develop their own businesses, they set a precedent for Tani to eventually do the same. She credits them for her ability to become a successful entrepreneur in her own right.
Children are meant to stand on the shoulders of their parents, and immigrant families across America make this possible.
3. Always Give Back
While regarded for their work ethic, immigrants are often best remembered for their kindness.
Perhaps more than anyone, immigrants understand the value of community. They credit their success to their family and friends, they share their victories, and they give back what they can.
Ultimately, our children are our historians. They remember what we do, how we live, and who we are. As an immigrant parent, you have a special opportunity to raise your kids with the values that represent your family and your culture.
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