By: Bhawani Persaud
To the Indo-Caribbean kids of immigrants:
Slavery. Farming in the Backdam. Striving for Canada. Breaking for a better future. For them. For the kids. We gave them everything we had.
This may be a familiar story to you, anyone with immigrant parents and those who are children of Indo-Guyanese parents like mine.
You are here. In a well-developed nation, educated, well fed and clothed – set up for a successful future free from the hardship that your parents endured.
So all is well.
Except like me, you may notice that this is not the case. Yes, you are free from the backbreaking work, and poverty – have access to education, healthcare and all the rights and luxuries the first world carries. That powerful shift and fire are what created your world and mine. Though you are now left with the ashes and perhaps feel responsible for lighting a new fire, pressure to make a better one, and guilty when it doesn’t light the way you want it to.
We have to create something to honour that sacrifice that we are we are reminded of informally and blatantly every day our parents tell us stories of walking with no shoes and rocky futures.
Maybe you pushed yourself to the brink to be the A+ student, behaved in the lines, and did all the right things.
You are good. All is well.
Only you and I know it is not. That alcoholism, mental health, anger issues, and domestic violence were not in your young vocabulary because “you are living the good life.” Before you knew that these words existed you somehow knew that they were yours as much as they are your family’s and that it is your responsibility to fix it.
So you be good, you strive for success, and you be the best for them.
But you struggle in the pain of your parents and your ancestors in the depression, anxiety, and genetic and hereditary ailments – a physical and mental culmination of the pain. Maybe you are mad at them and at yourself as you feel guilty for failing at the one job you had.
As you watch your other 2nd generation immigrant friends do better.
When you fall.
Into the depths of your mind under all the scars of those before you and all your demands of the proper future and all of the things that humans are.
You think you have failed. Your family and parents cannot fully understand and are confused and disappointed.
When you realize you have the power to use that pain. That you were blessed with a “mad head” You know that you now are responsible for the real healing not only of yourself but of those before you in order to stop the trauma from seeping into any more generations.
That is a whole different type of responsibility. A much more daunting one I predict.
Actually, I know this responsibility, the pressure, the guilt of needing to do better and of failing to be the best.
I felt like a failure as I lay staring up at fluorescent lights, cameras on the ceiling, and locks on the doors – the amenities of the psych ward. Time and time again I found myself there each time dismantling my hope of doing better in making all the sacrifices worth it.
But then I know that far greater responsibility is provided in falling. Diverting from the typical second gen top-tier career of science and engineering, to be driven to social work.
I am a student of social work. It is my future job to facilitate the healing and growth of others – the healing of past generations and stopping the cycle of trauma, violence, addictions, and mere survival.
The ugly truth is that to do this, I am to heal myself first.
To heal is to be.
To exist in the suspension of the past, future, responsibility, dreams and all the rest.
To trust that when you fall the person you become will catch you and that person will simply be more prepared to live authentically.
This is my attempt to trust myself and to share what I would have wished I heard several years ago. You are not responsible for anything more than your own growth, and inner calling.
Your healing is your own ear listening to your past and your future – to be at peace with your present. It is a daily work in progress and coincidently the key to halting that intergenerational trauma you are so concerned with.
I try to remind myself of this as I write to you proclaiming my intention to heal, to write, to connect with those of my similar identity. I hope to grow enough to honour that past and create a future for our children to accept their emotions and the pain of the world as they listen to who they are meant to be.
I do it with the guilt of failing and the urgency to do better while holding to the hope that someone else feels the same way.
I do it knowing there are spaces like these where there are others like me.
And I do it inspired by those who have shared their experiences and materialized these feelings beautifully.
Breaking, cutting, drinking, and abusing is not going to cut it any longer. I’m going to embrace the unknown of moving forward.
Follow me in.