I pretty much won the lotto or rather my parents did…
My parents are immigrants. My mom was Salutatorian (#2) when she graduated from high school in the Philippines. She got a conditional scholarship to college – meaning it would be extended based on her grades from semester to semester. It covered her tuition only – not books or other expenses. My mom was the oldest and as a family – they decided she would be the one to go to school, that’s all they could afford.
My grandfather was a soldier during World War II. When my dad was of college age, the Philippine Veterans Administration issued out a new benefit for the vets allowing them to send one child to college. My dad was that one child.
My parents met in college. My dad became an engineer and my mom a chemistry professor.
My dad got a working visa and landed a job in California. Eventually, he got my mom, my older brother and sister here. They became citizens. My mom had twins in Cali and we relocated to Houston where I was popped out. I’m the youngest.
I was born in Texas, the Woodlands to be exact, in 1980. We moved to the Phillippines when I was 2 and lived there until I was 7. We left the US because my oldest brother got mixed up with some bad kids and eventually they burned our house down. That’s a whole different story, which I may share later – but that’s why we moved back. We were one of the few brown people living there at the time…
Those 5 years in the Philippines had a tremendous impact on me, a perspective most 2nd generation immigrants don’t have. I didn’t know we weren’t poor. My parents, my Titas and Titos raised us like any other Filipino kid. We were playing in the streets from the minute we could walked – “raised by the village” – as they say.
When I came back to the US – I realized we weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich either. My dad worked, my mom stayed home when she started having kids – 5 of us in total.
I was a creative, adventurous child, but I made straight A’s pretty much from 1st grade through high school. As a kid, I spent most days after school and on weekends riding bikes, hanging out at the bayous – catching turtles and fish. I once convinced my uncle to build a pond for me in the backyard – which I stocked with perch and which the cats later ate. I was in choir and theatre in Junior high. I won awards in both and I had a goal to be on Saturday Night Live.
In high school, I discovered Hip Hop: Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def, Gangstarr and Houston’s own Geto Boys and the Blac Monks. I became a “rapper” or rather an emcee – for those that know the difference. I also joined the literary club and wrote poems and short stories which they published.
My parents wanted me to be a doctor or engineer. I simply wanted to perform and create things. If I hadn’t been somewhat “successful” and persistent in my creative endeavors, I would have probably got more push back from them. I wasn’t really sure if I needed to go to college. Some of the smartest, most resourceful people I’ve met – don’t have a degree. Some of the most useless people I’ve known – have multiple degrees. I’ll be one of the handful of people to say – college isn’t for everyone.
I would go to college though. My parents would pay for it. I knew a lot of people didn’t have that opportunity – so I would go. I passed on the University of Texas and went to the University of Houston – so I could stay with my girlfriend and still make music with the homies.
I considered being an English Major, but after a few English courses, I decided that if I wanted to write – I would write and I didn’t need a degree to do so. I found out about the Entreprenuership program at UH and applied. It was the #2 program in the nation and out of a few hundred applications, only 35 students were selected annually. I double majored in Marketing. I’ve been dreaming and chasing opportunities ever since – in some of the most seemingly disconnected endeavors.
I used to take it really hard when I failed. I have failed a lot. I will fail some more. I felt that I had to prove to my folks that my decision to not go academic or professional was the right choice – for me. I’m sure they still worry about me today. I’m still working on it. I’m still trying.
But I understand their concern. First generation immigrants come from a world of less opportunities to a world full of opportunities. Why waste that opportunity on risky things?
When you grow up poor in a third world country – the dream is to simply have a job, a stable one, so you can feed your family and have a house. It’s about meeting the basic needs.
I had a relative tell me once when I was in college…
“I don’t do anything at work. All my employees do everything. I get paid 6 figures. Why are you wasting your time with Marketing and music?”
It’s hard to argue that rationale with an immigrant. He’s got a stable job. He’s making money. He was in fact living the American dream. He was sharing his success story with me. It was a solid argument and I couldn’t argue it. But it bothered me.
Having seen the Phillipines first hand, living there and seeing the everyday struggle and hustle – I understood where he was coming from. He went from a hard life to an easy life.
But, something about it just didn’t ring true to me though.
I wanted a job doing something I cared about. Something that fit me and my natural inclinations.
This was the moment I realized that “The American Dream” is different between immigrant parents and their American children. It’s also the same scenario for Americans who have found monetary success and have children who grow up with a bit “easier” life.
It’s the same American Dream – but with passion as the key factor.
When you’re poor or come from a poor country, passion doesn’t really get factored into the equation. You gotta do, what you gotta do. Getting money to EAT is the goal. You work for the money. This is still very much the struggle today for a lot of Americans.
I am not trying to knock that approach by any means, we have to feed our family first – but I would like to reintroduce the opportunity and the luxury that we as Americans have: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
If that means making money – cool. If that means making art – cool. Go pursue your happiness – it’s the most American thing you can do.
What I’ve seen in my generation and the generations following me – is a real DESIRE to make money doing something you love. It’s confusing to a lot of older generations. It seems like a petty, unnecessary criteria. It’s frustrating to the younger generations because it is their main criteria. In the end, its two radically different approaches to life and you’ll have to find a way to accept this and live your life the way you’ve chosen to.
Understanding both sides of the spectrum – I’d like to propose that we give it a shot, especially if you hate the work you’re in. We live in America and this opportunity and luxury is real. You can get fired doing a job you hate. Why not TRY to make yourself happy while making money? To me, that’s the real dream and it’s attainable.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be overnight. Don’t go all nuts and quit your job tomorrow, but just start the process and spend some time figuring out what you can do, that you would actually enjoy doing.
Every failed endeavor I’ve had has given me a new skill and perspective. Things I never would have learned otherwise.
Whatever you’re doing now, should be a stepping stone or learning opportunity towards that dream gig. If it’s not, well you might need to start planning your exit. You’re not doing you or your employer any favors by staying at a job you hate. Take a pay cut, learn a new industry or trade, do something… it’s the most American thing you can do.