What do your (immigrant) parents do?
The question that once gave me anxiety now gives me strength.
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As a first-generation Latino American, my parents never worked a job worth mentioning. My mother, soon to retire, has 20+ years of housekeeping experience and my father worked various jobs from factory worker to bodega owner and more.
I was never proud to answer the question, “What do your parents do?” Instead, it brought me shame.
In elementary school, we were taught about police officers, firefighters, doctors, lawyers, and other professions my immigrant parents had impossible odds at becoming. In retrospect, the only examples of successful Latino immigrants (that I was aware of) were professional baseball players from my parents’ native Dominican Republic.
With ICE raids occurring in factories and warehouses all over NYC and NJ, I cannot help but think those places were my parents’ “old stomping grounds.” I cannot help but think about what first-generation Latino American children must think of their parents, who are likely working “low-skill” jobs in likely places to be raided. Illegal or not, like me, this question may bring them the same shame and reluctance to answer.
My message to them is, “No matter their status, know that your parents are working hard in order to one day, proudly answer, ‘What does your son/daughter do?’”
To everyone who ever asked me, “What do your parents do?”
I retract every single response; I had no understanding of the question. What did my parents do? My parents provided. Sacrificed. When language barriers prevented them from helping me with simple homework assignments, they taught me lessons on resourcefulness and self-sufficiency.
When cultural/educational barriers prevented them from answering simple questions about our surroundings, they sought the answers with me.
For many years, I misunderstood the question, not realizing that the definition of parent neither included prestigious professional titles nor an income bracket. And if you insist on knowing their professions, I’ll proudly say “As parents of three, they are a Bank Manager, an IT Manager, and an Army Veteran currently pursuing a Master’s degree”, because that is what they worked all their lives to be.
Abel Veloz is a first-generation Dominican-American, U.S. Army Veteran, and current graduate student at Rutgers University, NJ (MS in Global Affairs).