Plaza Voices: Life as the Child of Immigrant Parents

Our regular contributor Naghem S. writes:

“Don’t be political. Go to school, get good grades, and get a good job. Don’t make problems.” 

That was my father’s advice to us growing up. He wanted me to be a strong woman who could sway anyone to her side, but he also wanted me to be a “model minority,"  and not speak out about injustice. Not because he didn’t care, but because he feared that he and his family would anger the government and get deported. This possibility floated above our lives like a dark cloud. 

Life as a child of immigrant parents was both a blessing and a challenge. From a young age, I learned about the responsibilities of adulthood. Starting at age nine, I was the family's official translator. Medical appointments, financial paperwork, legal proceedings--I translated everything. When I was 14, my father had lower back bone fusion surgery. I spent five nights with him in the hospital and took care of him while my mother stayed at home with my younger siblings. 

When I was a senior in high school, my mother gave birth to my youngest sister. In Iraq, when a woman gives birth, her mother and sisters rally around her and take care of her and her baby for 40 days. My mother didn’t have that, so I stepped in. When the baby woke up in the middle of the night, I would let my mother sleep while I changed diapers and fed my little sister. I would get a couple hours of sleep and wake up again to go to school. I was a second mother to all my younger siblings, and in many ways I still am.

My parents always instilled responsibility and duty to family and tradition. Succeeding academically was a must in our household, but speaking English at home was not allowed. We spoke Arabic to preserve our native language. Cultural traditions were upheld and religious holidays were celebrated with great care and reverence. Iraqi foods were prepared daily, and every morning my mother still makes homemade Iraqi bread. She has shared those recipes with my sisters and me in the hope that we will continue her traditions and pass along our culture and identity to our children.

My childhood was colorful and proud, full of laughter and love. My parents taught us the love of home, both the home that opened its doors to us, and the home that gave birth to us. My parents have always encouraged me to seek the American Dream but maintain my identity as a Shiite Muslim Iraqi, and never forget who I am and where I came from. Balancing both worlds while trying to form my own individual identity is a long journey that I have yet to complete.

My parents have been in the United States for 25 years. This country has given them rare opportunities for peace, education, prosperity, and freedom. But they never feel safe. I try to reassure them that we are welcome here, that we belong. But sometimes I have trouble believing that myself.

Recommended Books:

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri 

Somebody's Daughter by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

American born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang ; color by Lark Pien

The Chosen : a Novel by Chaim Potok

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our events calendar for more information.

Written by Plaza Voices on April 24, 2018


Carolyna on April 29, 2018


That is a great personal story. Thanks for the book recommendations!

Carolyna on April 29, 2018


That is a great personal story. Thanks for the book recommendations!

Anonymous on April 29, 2018


Beautiful, powerful story. Thanks for sharing!