Family:The Next Generation

By Karen Bridson-Boyczuk (from Issue 4 of Canadian Newcomer Magazine)

It is hard for new Canadians to come to this country and fit in. But it is also very hard for people who were born in Canada to deal with their parents who were born in other countries.

What jobs to get, what to study at school, when to start dating, who to be friends with, who to marry are all issues that come up between parents and children. But this problem can be bigger for people who have parents who grew up in a different country and culture.

Western culture gives young people more freedom than many other cultures in the world. This can make Canadian children fight back against their parents who want to have more control.

The number of people facing this problem grows every year. In 2001, there were 5.4 million immigrants in Canada and that number has been going up. In a study by Statistics Canada, they found 71 per cent of new immigrants who arrived between 1991 and 2001 said their home culture was important but just 57 per cent of their children (who were born in Canada) said it was important.

That study also found six per cent of immigrants were involved in ethnic associations but just one per cent of their children were.

This problem of being caught between two worlds has even been seen in the movies. The film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is one that shows how a daughter has trouble dealing with the decisions she is making in the 'new world.'
Toronto resident Tobi Asmoucha, whose father is a Jew from Baghdad and whose mother is a Jew from Wales, was born and raised in Vancouver.

She said it was hard being different than her friends at school.

"We grew up in a really white, Anglo-Saxon area and we were so clearly not," she said.

Her mother fought against having the Lord's Prayer read in school.

"We really did feel different," she said.

Asmoucha's father had very different ideas from her friends' fathers.

"He felt that he brought us here for a good life and you should know how lucky you are," she said. "We were to be proper Jewish girls."

She was expected to do exactly what her family wanted her to do, while her friends had more freedom.

"There was always a big clash," she said. "He told me my life was on fire because I was living with a non-Jewish guy. That was a big deal and something you just don't do."

Her father expected his sons to be the ones who were successful in business but Tobi has surprised and pleased him by becoming a well-known, award-winning photographer who makes a good income.

"When I graduated from university he said, 'well, you can always be a waitress,'" she said. "It took him a while to get it."

Alan Wong was born and raised in Canada but his parents came from China.He said there were more rules inside his home than in his friends' homes.

"For my parents or, at least my father, doing well at school meant everything, particularly in 'practical' subjects, like the sciences," he said. "My parents were also very strict about race and romance. Throughout my childhood, they were big on us - my four sisters and I - dating and marrying Chinese."

When Wong's sister married a Euro-Canadian, she "went through hell with my parents," Wong said. "The rest of my sisters also married Caucasians but they married much later, so by that point my parents were just glad they married at all."

Wong also noticed that his parents were much harder on his sisters than they were on him. He got to do much more. "I definitely got away with more and had more freedom than they did, so I grew up feeling rather guilty much of the time," he said. "However, I also grew up knowing I was gay and that made for a nervous time in my teen years, keeping that secret from my parents who were always pressuring me to find a Chinese girlfriend."

Wong said he often got mad at his parents and fought with them. "I often lashed out at my parents because of the pressure I felt, with the academics, the relationships I should have been having, the family obligations," he said. "Being Chinese is all about family, and while that's great and necessary, in many ways it's a burden. It made me dependent on my parents whereas my non-Chinese friends, it seems, were taught to be much more independent at an earlier age."

Mary Tsilka came to Canada from Greece at seven years old when her family left to get away from the political problems in the country and to keep her older brother out of the army.

In Greece her parents were hay and potato farmers. Once they came here, her father got a job laying carpet and her mother worked sewing clothing on Spadina Avenue. Tsilka said her parents were more strict with her and her siblings than her friends' parents were.

"My sister had it worse because she wasn't allowed to wear pants," she said. "Here you are in Canada (where all the girls wear pants) and you are not allowed to. There were a lot of rules that didn't fit into Canadian living."

With her sister being older, Tsilka said her parents were less strict with her, allowing her to wear pants.

Growing up around a lot of Italian families was a help, she said, because many of those girls faced the same cultural problems that she did.

"It was all like night and day compared to Canadian culture," she said. "My mother was shocked that I had boys that were friends. And I wasn't allowed to go the mall like all of my friends. That was so shocking to her (that I wanted to do those things). It was like being on another planet."

Because her parents never got to go to school, they were happy that Tsilka went to university and became a teacher.

When going to classes at York University, her mother would always ask why she wasn't wearing nice clothes and makeup to school.

Sandra Kasturi was born in Estonia and lived in the United States and Sri Lanka before moving to Canada at 11 years old.

Her father let go of much of his culture but her mother didn't. Kasturi said she has often had trouble with growing up with one culture inside her home and another culture outside her home.

"The clash of cultures can be described as the clash of the past versus the future," she said. "She would say, 'We come from the old country, this is how we do things.'"

In Estonia there is a work ethic that you 'work until you die'. "I'm not successful by my family's standards, which is unpleasant to experience," said Kasturi, who is a poet who works as a secretary. "You tend to judge yourself more harshly. It takes a very long time to realize you can't do that to yourself."

She said she has spent many years of her life trying to make her parents happy and herself happy at the same time. It's been hard to try to keep in line with the Estonian culture and the Canadian culture at the same time.

To make her mother happy, Kasturi said, she would have to have a 'one-word job' like a lawyer, accountant or engineer. "Something with social status and that is easily described to others," she said. Being a secretary is demeaning in her parents' eyes, she said.

Kasturi loves writing poetry but her family would only be happy that she writes poetry if she made lots of money at it and was well known.

One time her father's upbringing caused problems was after she became engaged to be married. Her father asked her why her fiancé had not asked him for his permission to marry her. "I was over 30 and I just laughed," she said.
It may be that the only thing harder than dealing with parents who were born in the old country is dealing with children who were born in Canada.