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What Parents Do

What Parents Do

Alex Sianturi and his family pose with a landmark for the southernmost point of the U.S. to Cuba, 90 miles away, with ocean in the background.

On the Immigrant Experience and Parental Sacrifices 

By Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

In 2019, 44.9 million people living in the United States were foreign-born immigrants, making up 14% of the country’s population. [1]  

In addition, an eighth of American residents are native-born citizens with one or more parents being immigrants. [2] This eighth includes several students at Walla Walla University, who shared some of their stories about what their parents had to go through to get here. 

Adriana Barahona, a sophomore pre-law business major, shared that her parents came to the United States from El Salvador in order to escape the effects of civil war. [3] Barahona stated, “While [the war] was over, there was still a lot of violence that happened because of it. A lot of gangs, the most dangerous gang in the world is in El Salvador … At the time they were raising two young girls, me and my sister, and they just thought it was too dangerous to raise us there.” [4] 

The violence which Barahona described her parents escaping from is still happening today, with gang violence killing over 60 people in one day in El Salvador last March. [5] 

For Barahona’s parents, the process of immigration was challenging. In traveling over, they had to be separated from their daughters for three months before finally being reunited in Washington. [6] Barahona recalled, “My mom got to the States first, and then me and my sister followed. Because we were apart for so long, she was very anxious until we were finally here and together again.” [7]  

Barahona said that she is thankful her parents did it. Even though she misses El Salvador, Barahona’s parents “have tried to keep our culture even while we’re here, so I’ve never felt like I’ve lost it.” [8] 

Alex Sianturi, sophomore nursing student, was also brought to the U.S. by his parents, although his circumstances are somewhat different. As Sianturi described it, he was born in America, but his parents were both born in Indonesia. When he was a child, his parents moved back to Indonesia and later offered for him to go back to the U.S. for his education, which he accepted. [9] 

Alex Sianturi and his family taking a group photo with Mickey Mouse, the Disney mascot, at Disneyland.
Alex Sianturi and family meeting an American favorite. Photo courtesy of Alex Sianturi.

With his parents still in Indonesia running their business, Sianturi isn’t able to see them often. However, Sianturi stated that “we do family calls a few times a week. It’s a little hard because of the time difference.” [10] Sianturi expressed that while he doesn’t think it’s easy for his parents to be separated from their kids, he’s able to call frequently and visit them in Indonesia every year, so he maintains a connection. 

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Here in the U.S., Sianturi said, there are some cultural differences that his parents aren’t always aware of. He said, “It’s more conservative, more family oriented over there. More modest in Indonesia, like over here [dressing] is seen as a way to express yourself while over there it’s just more modest … There are instances where some parents question why a girl’s skirt is so short, and all this, and I would tell them over here it’s normal, it’s not all that crazy.” [11] Fortunately for Sianturi, he said his parents are pretty understanding of differences, which makes things easier. 

Leona Guthrie, a coordinator for the migrant education program of the Hillsboro school district in Oregon, shared some of what she’s seen in her work. Guthrie has met many immigrant students and worked with parents and said that they face many different challenges in moving to the U.S. Guthrie works mostly with a Hispanic population, and shared that in moving to the pacific northwest, parents may have challenges in fitting in to the different culture, finding what they need, and even adapting to the weather. [12] 

In particular, Guthrie talked about one of her coworkers, an immigrant from Mexico who moved to Oregon as a child and faced challenges of homelessness, cold, and discrimination. [13] This individual resented her mother as a child for never being available, only to realize later in life that the reason her mother hadn’t been around was that she had been working constantly to provide for her kids. [14] Fortunately, Guthrie shared that her coworker realized later in life everything her mother did for her and is happy to be where she is today. 

References 

  1. Immigrants in the United States. (September 21, 2021). American Immigration Council. https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrants-in-the-united-states  
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Interview with Adriana Barahona, 5/12/22. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Roy, D. (May 4, 2022). Why has gang violence spiked in El Salvador? Council on Foreign Regulations. https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/why-has-gang-violence-spiked-el-salvador-bukele 
  1. Interview with Adriana Barahona, 5/12/22. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Interview with Alex Sianturi, 5/12/22. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Interview with Leona Guthrie, 5/13/22. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
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