For the Eldest Daughters of Immigrants.
I know that literature regarding the experiences of the diaspora kid is oversaturated, but here I am writing about it. I hope to address the parts of the child of immigrants experience that are not as widely discussed, and I am going to do so from the eldest daughter perspective throughout the following paragraphs. I am sure that even eldest daughters, or eldest children, of parents who are not immigrants will relate to some of these points, but overall, I write this for those mentioned in the title of this blog post, including myself.
My younger brother has told me many times that he is so thankful to be the younger sibling. The older, or oldest, child has to experience everything first, and this is only exacerbated if you are now a woman who was raised in the United States by immigrant parents. In many ways, I believe that my experiences were easier compared to my friends as my parents had a less traditional (as compared to other Indian families) approach to raising children and all of the aspects that come along with it, and they had also resided in the United States for quite some time before having me. That being said, I still struggle with the pressures of being the eldest daughter and the feeling of being frequently misunderstood.
Certain aspects of growing up such as having playdates or sleepovers with friends, fashion, puberty, mental health, and dating are viewed very differently here in the United States than they are in India. While the lines are a little bit more blurred now, and commonalities do exist, I am sure that raising a daughter in the 2000s after moving countries was a different ball game. Not only do all young people experience these things, but as an immigrant daughter, I was navigating the pressures of building community within predominantly white spaces. Aeropostale, Hollister, and Abercrombie were trending, and I had to nervously and gradually float the idea to my mom that I wanted to shop at these stores. The white girls in middle school were obsessed with straightening their hair, and while I felt as though I needed to do the same, I could not muster up the courage to ask my mom for a flat iron until I was in high school and could get one myself (by this point, my appreciation for my hair had grown, and I rarely straightened it).
The way that periods are discussed in the US is likely very different than how it was discussed in India, and I did not know how to have these conversations with my parents when I reached that age of development. I had to test the waters myself and proceed accordingly. I have always been transparent with my parents regarding dating, and I was one of the few immigrant daughters who was allowed to have boys over, but every day was not smooth sailing. Despite the permission, I would butt heads with my parents over spending time with a boy, and where the boundaries lay within that. I was the first child with whom my parents had to go Homecoming and Prom dress shopping, and as a girl, the (now minuscule and silly) stressors that came along with these events were even more stressful.
My (white) friends would get upset if I could not spontaneously leave to spend time with them because I had obligations to my family and my own community. I had trouble determining how much of my culture and my family I should show to others because I did not have guidance from an older sibling. I was the guinea pig regarding social situations and my parents had to decide whether to enforce curfews or groundings, which are uniquely white, American concepts.
On top of the social pressures, a weight is also placed on eldest daughters to take advantage of every opportunity and succeed in a way that is deemed acceptable. We are representations of our parents cultivating better lives in unfamiliar places, and we have to prove that we are deserving. I think that I have disrupted convention a fair amount of times in my life so far, and I know that my parents have struggled to understand me, or know me, in these moments. As the older sibling, I feel pressure to ensure security in my life as quickly as possible and my loved ones would feel helpless if I expressed any vulnerability. Everyone is watching every move I make so that they can determine whether they should follow in my footsteps or keep me in mind as a “what not to do” lesson.
You’re experiencing everything first not only as a child and sibling, but also as the first person to go through K-12 schooling in a different country. Your classmates are different, your homework assignments are different, and your extra-curricular activities are different from what your parents knew. I held the answers to questions that my parents, or anyone who has immigrated here as an adult, did not, and I hold myself accountable for my brother’s success in this country both professionally and socially.
I also know that despite all of this, my parents still know best, and as much as I have tried to defy them as an eldest daughter who claims to be an expert in how American kids should be raised, I have learned to accept this. I still carry the weight and the pressures with me, and attempt to do whatever I want because I believe that I am right, but I no longer feel the need to conform as I did when I was a tween.
The eldest daughter of immigrant parents has to carry a lot on her shoulders. The mental exhaustion that comes with this role may seem trivial and dramatic (and maybe it is), but we cannot help how we feel. The expectations placed on us are great. I have many friends who have expressed similar stressors and I urge younger siblings to check in with their older siblings from time to time. I absolutely love being the older sibling, and would not trade it for anything, but this does not mean that I am not afraid when I am the first one to experience a new situation. The balance of fitting in with your peers (and being influenced by them) while also pleasing your parents is a delicate one, and I still feel as though, at the age of twenty four, that I have not mastered it. I find peace within this because I would rather give my brother a realistic view of being a diaspora kid over providing a flawless image that only exists in movies.