I am a proud third generation immigrant. My grandparents emigrated from India to England then finally landed in Canada. Like most cookie cutter immigrant stories they wanted to alter the course of their lives, and more importantly their children’s’ lives, in favor of better opportunity. They worked factory jobs well below their skill level and worked hard to assimilate into Canadian culture while maintaining ethnic identity. My parents got married and eventually moved to the United States. Much like their parents before them, they left their families behind in search of even better opportunity for their future children.
As I reflect upon the life-altering choices and subsequent sacrifices of the generations before me, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I am sure many children and grandchildren of immigrants feel similarly. However, when your family has given anything required to make sure you have everything, it can turn you into a pressure cooker. The expectation in many Asian American families is that you are either as prosperous or preferably more successful than your parents. With climbing requirements for each coming generation, where do we stop? It feels as if nothing could repay their sacrifices.
I come from a very modern and Americanized household. The expectation for my brother and I was that we try our hardest and succeed to the best of our ability. Perfection was not a necessity. In many Americanized families, I believe that cultural expectations persist in subtle ways. If I fail a class, I am not going to get beat with a rolling pin, but you bet I’ll do it to myself mentally. The threat of feeling like I let my family down is so much broader and more shackling. I think many of us find ourselves in prisons of our own making. The world of academia riddles us with stresses and anxieties.
<blockquote>The threat of feeling like I let my family down is so much broader and more shackling. I think many of us find ourselves in prisons of our own making.”</blockquote>
These subtle but consuming cultural expectations take a toll on our mental health. I now find myself at a competitive state university. This past year has been the most academically grueling thus far. My quest for perfection was in full swing as I buckled down to study. Academically I came out on top with all A’s, but mentally I was somewhere between a C and a D. By the time finals rolled around, I couldn’t fall asleep or stay asleep. I was getting recurrent migraines, eye twitches, and the sound of my watch (which I have had on for ten years) was so infuriating I took it off and threw it across my room. I strived so hard for perfection out of fear that anything less would limit my future opportunities. After a few months of consuming stress, I finally reached out to a mental health professional.
Mental health in the Indian community and countless other minority communities is not taken as seriously or treated with as much care as other health problems. Luckily, my family does not hold these beliefs. It is my interpretation that mental illness is viewed as something to be ashamed of in many households, or at the very least, not speak about. In close-knit communities, severe mental illness can be socially sabotaging. The culture of mental health is hushed. We need to reassure each other that mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of. In the last decade, the minority community and world at large have taken leaps and bounds forward in the destigmatization of mental health. However we cannot rest, promoting conversation about this topic is the best way to normalize it. The availability of mental health resources in schools is crucial, and I believe family support is just as essential. As mental health begins to be treated with the seriousness of other physical well being, I think it will gain the spotlight and sympathy it deserves.