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Do What You Love or Please Your Parents?

September 27, 2016
Growing up as a first generation Eritrean, I'm lucky enough to say my parents support my creative endeavors. But for many of the creative diaspora, that's just not the case.

Pursue your dreams or please your parents? A struggle known too well among diaspora youth wanting to pursue the fine arts. As awesome as it is being first generation, it isn’t always easy. Of course, there are many perks: having a rich sense of community (special shout out to all the “cousins”), having a supply of condiments in your house that expanded far beyond ketchup and mustard, being bilingual(ish), and much more! However, there are some disadvantages, a common one being the pressure to live up to the parental standard of the ‘best life’. Often, this translates to maintaining a stable income typically as a doctor, lawyer or engineer.
Illustrations by Zet Gold
Whether it’s to escape imperfect conditions or life-threatening experiences, immigrants seek a place to settle down and find a better life for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, their trials don’t stop once they get here. In most cases, they experience racism, they have to learn a new language, or work countless hours at jobs they are overqualified for, just so that their kids can have what they didn’t.
Knowing that your parents have endured, and continue to endure hardships, for your success is both motivational and overwhelming. All you want to do is the make them proud and show them all their hard work and perseverance wasn’t for nothing, right? On the other hand, what if your heart’s deepest desires and life calling doesn’t make them proud? What if your dream occupation doesn’t necessarily guarantee stability? Is your happiness worth sacrificing for your parents? Is making the choice to diminish your joy, and sometimes sanity, to please your hard working caregivers the right thing to do?

Being a first generation Eritrean creative, I am very fortunate to say that I come from a supportive family, both emotionally and financially. Growing up, my parents were always more than willing to purchase creative equipment for me such as canvases, paint, cameras. More recently, they partially funded an art show I curated. Continuously, they encourage me to pursue my dreams and passions, for which I am truly thankful. In comparison, many of my artistic peers from my Eritrean community aren’t as fortunate. They are often told things like, “Stop playing around,” “This is all a silly game,” and “You need real goals, You’re not a little kid anymore!”

Living and working as a creative is less than ideal for their parents because it translates into struggle and instability. Despite enjoying what you do, it can take years (if that) to ‘make it’ in the creative field.

After speaking to a few first generation artists that have gone through these same trials, and while each story is unique, I’ve gathered that it’s important to understand all your parents want is for you to be happy! For most of them, that translates into you having a reliable income. The absolute last thing they want you to do is to struggle like they did! With that being said, you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice what you love to make your parents proud. While it might not be easy to disappoint your parents, if you can show them that you can make a reliable amount of money, while doing what you love, you’ll both be proud of your work and happy with where you are in life.

As first generations, a lot of time is spent prioritizing our elders’ happiness and comfort as a sign of respect. Just always remember you are a separate individual. Your parents won’t always approve of every single decision you make and that doesn’t mean you don’t respect them or that you are failed them. It just means you have a different desire for your life (and guess what? that’s OK!). Be yourself, love yourself, and work hard. Never feel guilty for being your own individual and having a passion.


Lydia Mehari is an east African teen that creates pieces mostly surrounding body positivity and Eritrean/Ethiopian culture. You can follow her on Instagram!