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Essay | 'The dual burden of immigrant children' by Sophia Hadeshian

May 15, 2020

Creative writing

By Sophia Hadeshian

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Essay | 'The dual burden of immigrant children' by Sophia Hadeshian

“Shining light on the overlooked and unspoken topic of the sociological dual burden within immigrant children... I have found a lack of coverage of this topic with respect to immigrant women.”

In this very personal and candid piece, Sareen Hadeshian explores the pressures on intergenerational relations in immigrant families and asks important questions about generational trauma, love of family and culture, and managing expectations. 

Writer's name Sophia Hadeshian
Occupation

Photojournalist; Visual artist

City/Country Bronx, N.Y.
About the writer

  • Armenian-American photojournalist and visual artist born and raised in Bronx, N.Y.
  • Earned her degree in Journalism at SUNY Purchase, along side multiple concentrations in visual arts, photography, media, and Italian studies
  • Her work reflects a search for identity in a world where her's is unrepresented

In sociology there is a term referred to as the “double burden” or “dual burden.” This describes the phenomenon of full-time working women who are also available for a second shift of labor upon returning home. Investigating this amongst Armenian women, I realized that this dual burden is a common factor amongst all immigrant women and even their offspring, for that matter. As gender is a social construct—fluid and non-binary—this is no longer a burden on just women. This is a double burden on anyone, despite gender, who experiences such oppressions. 

While working on my thesis for university, I spoke with Sareen Palassian, a fellow member of the non-profit organization, Kooyrigs, who reintroduced this term to me. My current work consists of exploring the lives and memories of Armenian-Americans living between the hyphen—playing tug of war with both sides. Throughout my research, as well as within Sareen’s interview, the topic of dual burden struck me as something grossly unrepresented and especially common in our world.

“My first year of college was the turning point of when I finally decided to do what I wanted for myself, and not do what my parents wished. I started out as a biochemistry major because my parents had always instilled in me that I would become a doctor and make loads of money and take care of them,” she explained on the topic of parental acceptance in the diaspora. “Although I grabbed a Tylenol bottle during my agra hadig, after many tearful arguments and disagreements, they finally realized I wasn’t happy in STEM.” 

This made me think: Why, whether as first, second, or third generations of immigrants, do we feel so pressured to impress or accomplish things solely for our parents' approval and happiness? Is it the intergenerational trauma that infects our blood subconsciously? Or is it the pressure derived from the love we have for our family and culture, and not knowing how to differentiate that from the love we have for ourselves and our own dreams? 

“Like most Armenian’s in LA, I was raised with this invisible, unspoken burden that comes with two or three generations of continuous displacement, cross-border movement, refugee status and ‘othering’ across Turkey, Lebanon, Armenia, and now the United States,” Sareen said, her mouth forming words that magically spoke the thoughts in my head. 

Unable to achieve the “American Dream” themselves, many immigrant families instill this pressure on their children to “have it all”: a good education, a high paying job, and—especially for those who identify as female—heavy pressure on attaining a husband and having kids. Sareen explains this reality and how this differs from those who aren’t immigrants or born into immigrant (first, second, or third generation) households. There is no denying nor invalidating all who identify with the dual burden, but the cultural component makes it even more heartbreaking for those who are forced to deal with it. And because of this, it makes it something virtually impossible to stray away from.

"My Auntie Diana and Great Grandma Sirarpi outside their apartment window in the Bronx." (Photo courtesy of Sophia Hadeshian)

The victims of this dual burden lose something essential to every human being: time. Dividing time between heavy work schedules and social responsibilities, these familial expectations almost double the amount of time spent at or on work itself—whether it’s a job or attending school. Connecting this to the status of immigrants in our country, it creates even more anxiety around living and assimilating.

Personal autonomy is jeopardized because of this. There is a constant need and ongoing pressure to care for families, the home, for children to get good grades, and to pitch in financially. Predetermined goals cloud our minds while our dreams take the back burner. What is the solution? Will this always be a constant battle of unpaid labor, a product of the patriarchal power structure? Although our world is progressing, through the old eyes of our immigrant parents and grandparents, these values are still implanted. There are many feminist organizations that discuss this issue of the dual burden, but none that address this as a highly confusing and heartbreaking value of some cultures. And though facing the double burden is psychologically draining, to just walk away would seem somewhat blasphemous. 

I have no answer to how we can end this phenomenon—but the first step is representation and recognition. While gender ideologies in America are changing, many people seem to forget that what is valued in one culture may not necessarily transcend to another. Despite the changes in gender attitudes and ideologies, most are not accompanied by corresponding change.
 

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