This is a tribute to all immigrant mothers, grandmothers, and future mothers – honoring your bravery and sacrifice.
You don’t know me. But on behalf of your children, and your children’s children, I want to thank you for your incredible strength and courage.
You might be wondering how a stranger could know if you are strong or courageous, without knowing your story. But I don’t need to know you to know of your sacrifice. I can recognize your strength because I saw them both, every day of my life, in my mother, since the day she decided to uproot her whole world to give us our best chance.
You have all given up so much in search of a better life for your families. That kind of sacrifice will have a lasting impact, a ripple effect through your future generations. I bear witness to this and stand before you as living, breathing proof of what your sacrifice will mean for your children one day.
I was only 11 years old when we moved to Canada so my experience with immigrating at such a young age is through the eyes of a child. While I do not know the intensity of moving an entire family across the world, I can speak to what it will be like for your children during this transition. I can tell they will be watching you closely – I learned a lot from watching how my mother handled the hardest of those early transition years, lessons that only an immigrant mother can teach.
I can tell you that it will be confusing, at times, for them as they will be caught in a cultural dualism, pulled between their cultural roots and being drawn to adopting Canadian values – a dichotomy that we spend decades trying to resolve within ourselves. But your daughters will be resilient because they will see it in you. They will learn from you like I learned from my mother, that a strong sense of self, shaped by and rooted deeply in our cultural values, can help a woman move mountains (and across continents) to provide for her family.
It will be challenging at times for them, as they – like you – will have to navigate this new world, with its new cultures, languages, and practices. Transitioning can be difficult, especially when there are precious little resources to rely on and likely no extended relatives but your own small family unit. But your daughters will be strong because they will see it in you. They will learn from you like I learned from my mother to hold their heads high in times of adversity and rally their courage to face anything that life throws at them.
It will undoubtedly be lonely, discouraging, and isolating at times for them too. But your daughters will be determined. They will learn from you like I learned from my mother that hard work and resolve are the ingredients to success and it will be ingrained in them as they watch you work two or three jobs to put a roof over their heads, put them through school and put food on the table.
It will be unbelievably rewarding for them as they are growing up in a land of choice, freedom, and equality. And your daughters will be empowered because they will see it in you. They will learn from you like I learned from my mother, the power of education and the doors it can open. They will learn to be confident, decisive, and formidable – to seize the opportunity when it comes their way because they have watched you overcome hardship to build a new life and legacy from nothing.
I know that all mothers sacrifice themselves for their children, but immigrant mothers are unique in this way because their sacrifice has taken them across continents, away from their network of support, into unfamiliar lands and foreign values.
It was the same kind of sacrifice that my mother made for us almost 20 years ago and is precisely the reason that in those two decades, I have been able to earn a world-class education from North American universities; I have a career that I am passionate about, that fulfills me and offers me financial security; I had the freedom to choose a love that has transformed my life in ways I never thought possible and my happiness from that is a source of great strength for me. This is the life that she made possible for me, the day my mother chose to immigrate.
Because of her, I am me. And I am grateful. Growing up in North America has changed my life for the better and is arguably the most influential piece of my life’s story. I am eternally grateful for the sacrifice it took to give me this life. Though they may not show it now, I know that one day your children will also come to understand and respect the hard choices you had to make to give them everything they need to succeed.
During those early days, when I didn’t fully appreciate the lengths my parents went to make our transition easy for us, I would often ask her why. “Why, mum, did we have to move and leave everything we know and love?” Often she would respond, probably out of exhaustion “one day, little girl, you will understand and thank me.”
If I knew then what I know now - that all the doors that opened for me were pried open by the hard work and determination of my immigrant mother - I would have thanked her then; let her know that every battle she fights and wins, will make a difference. It will matter.
So on behalf of the many immigrant children, who may not understand what you have given them—I’d like to thank all the strong mothers, grandmothers, and future mothers who gave up everything to give us our best chance at life. We can never repay you but rest assured, we will make sure your sacrifice wasn’t in vain. So don’t give up, raise your children to be leaders, community builders, and change makers. One day, they will reach their potential, walk through the doors you opened for them, and make it all worth it.
This article was originally written in collaboration with and celebration of #ImmigrantHeritageMonth 2016.