Oldest Daughter (but in an Immigrant Family)

By Nupur Kudapkar 

A proud first-generation American and a woman is what I would use to describe myself. However, the first-generation American title comes with struggles and trauma (sometimes generational) that I would not bestow upon anyone. This is my experience as the oldest daughter in an immigrant family. 

My father moved to the United States in the 1990s, and after my parents married in 2002, they returned, and I was born a few years later in 2005. Growing up, a lot was expected of me; after all, I was born in California, and my parents had given up everything to move here from India. This is a heavyweight in and of itself; to make your parents proud because they sacrificed their family for you and your future success. I found myself attending Kumon classes, obtaining high grades, taking art, piano, and flute lessons, and participating in sports such as cross country, all out of fear of disappointing them. Many children of immigrants can identify with these aspirations. Nothing is more important to you as a child of immigrant parents than your parents’ approval and affection. You want them to have the greatest life possible because of all they sacrificed, so you go to great lengths to make them proud and although my parents never put much pressure on me, I still felt as if I owed them everything. 

My parents are not like conventional Indian parents, and I am extremely thankful for it. They ended the pattern of generational abuse by giving my brother and me eternal respect, love, and freedom (with boundaries, of course). Nonetheless, their traumatic childhood experiences, such as harsh parents, abuse, living in an impoverished country, and so on, continue to influence my life. I picked up crippling anxiety and a fear of failure as a result of the way I was raised, and while I have no idea what they went through, it pains my heart to know that in order to construct their world together, they had to confront the severity of reality as an immigrant in America and a child in India. 

Growing up, I had (and still have) no family in the United States. I have hundreds of family members in India, and a part of me longs to know them. What their interests are, the connections we can create, and just being a family in general, but I know I will never know them and will never have the dynamic and support of having an extended family. When I see people who are close to their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on, it makes me immensely jealous since I know I will never have that. 

Years of therapy and unpacking the various events of my childhood have taught me that being the child of an immigrant parent is not easy, but it can be very rewarding. It is extremely vital to be kind to and respect yourself; don’t dismiss your feelings because they are real and genuine.