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Now I understand the sacrifices made by my immigrant parents

May 5, 2021

I have a confession. Despite the fact that I, too, lived over a convenience store run by my immigrant parents, I have never watched an episode of Kim’s Convenience. I’ve heard the show is incredibly well written and witty, but in all honesty I was unsure about how I would feel watching the similarities of my childhood reality played out in a sitcom.

My parents immigrated to Canada when my sister and I were 6 and 3, respectively. They left their professional jobs behind in Taiwan, in addition to their families and friends, to give us “the best opportunities in life,” as we so frequently heard growing up. Now, raising my own three children, in significantly more privileged circumstances, I am at a crossroads – how do I give them what they need and foster their independence, yet still ensure that they live their lives with empathy and gratitude?

My father became an entrepreneur out of sheer necessity to secure a roof over our heads. With limited English skills, employment options were non-existent. They spent their savings on the purchase of a small convenience store, which we also lived above, as many families did then and continue to do so now. My mother, a former midwife and nurse, spent much of our childhood learning to speak English while being a cashier at our quaint neighbourhood corner store. I have many memories of her playing a role similar to a confused Vanna White, but instead of turning letters on Wheel of Fortune, Mom was trying to decipher what brand of cigarettes a customer wanted from behind the counter.

They worked seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, often longer. As a child, I never understood why they needed to work so much or why no one ever volunteered to bake cookies or chaperone school field trips. One day, my fourth-grade teacher called my mother in to speak with her. During a class assignment, I had written a story about how “my parents love money more than they love me.” I can only imagine the embarrassment and stabbing pain my mother felt during that talk. I wish I could go back in time.