A Tale of Two Generations
Recently, Sarah and I have been working on the opening number to our show, which is tentatively titled Graduation Day.
— Deborah Lau (@DeborahLau) March 26, 2015
We recently tried out a first draft at MTF’s Factory Salon open mic and showed it to a few friends afterwards and got some great feedback.
When we have a more final version of the song (hopefully later this year if all goes well with our submission to MTF’s 4×15 series) I’ll do the usual annotations and everything.
This song sets up the central conflict of our show, which (as I explained in the promo video for Revolver) is about the choices faced by second generation immigrants and how those choices conflict with the expectations of their parents. Example:
"It seems that most children in America are encouraged to follow their dreams. But my parents are immigrants." pic.twitter.com/xKHDju4fC9
— Brandon Stanton (@humansofny) February 20, 2015
When I retweeted that earlier in the week, I got an interesting response from my uncle (which my mom then liked on Facebook):
Now, the original tweet is just one perspective from a second generation immigrant. Is it true to say that this perception only applies in the context of immigrant parents and their children? Of course not; there are always exceptions on either side of the rule. However, I argue that there are enough instances of immigrant parents telling their children they are only allowed to pursue music and art to make their resumes look good and not as a career–and enough instances of non-immigrant parents encouraging their children with talent in music and art to pursue those careers–that the infrequent few on either side are drowned out by the majority.
Anyway, I’m not going to get into a debate here about whether or not generalization is fair. What I’m going to do is highlight the all important belief here, which is a prime example of how the central conflict in our show manifests itself:
The “follow your dreams” concept is a warm and fuzzy ideal, but few actually choose it as the cost is too high.
These two very different world views. The first is that of the parents who sacrificed everything so their children can have a better life without the struggles that they had to go through; the second is that of the children who have grown up in a Western society and believe in pursuing their dreams and who have a much more individualistic view of life.
I don’t think there is a disagreement between the generations that every adult has a fundamental duty to adequately provide for yourself and your family. I do think that overwhelmingly the conflict lies in what the different generations value.
Now watch me get all rhetorical and exaggerate here to make this point:
- People of my parents’ generation grew up in and went through hard times where the threat of hunger and lack of shelter were very real things and so they value stability and security above all things. I mean, they just came out of a world war!
- My generation has grown up in a time of plenty, where our parents had worked hard so that food and shelter weren’t things we worried about. Instead, as the first generation where a tertiary education has become the expected, we grew up being told things like:
- if you work hard, you will get there and everything will be okay; and
- be obedient and loyal employees of big businesses and government and you will be rewarded with promotions and job security.
This all sounds pretty good. Except, you know, instead of all that coming true, what happened instead was:
- we saw things like the internet bubble grow at insane rates, then implode;
- we witnessed corruption at the highest levels of big business and giant corporate collapses (hello Enron, WorldCom and Lehman Brothers);
- we graduated in the middle of a global financial crisis, watched as governments bailed out corporations deemed “too big to fail” and the aftershock ripple across the world;
- we struggled to find jobs, despite mountains of qualifications, and resort to working unskilled jobs…but now with crippling student loan debt – and this isn’t changing anytime soon; and
- we despair as housing prices where we live increase so sharply that we either spend over half of our paycheck on mortgage/rent payments (and I am saying this as someone whose salary is probably in the top quartile for my age), or we get forced to move out to a different part of the city, and sometimes the city altogether.
We were promised everything in exchange for trusting in the system; yet in the end, the system betrayed us and gave us nothing.
We don’t value stability and security – to us, these concepts just don’t exist anymore.
No matter how much loyalty we show, we can still lose our jobs in a second, as big corporations chase profits and short-term cost savings through offshoring and “increasing productivity” at the expense of work/life balance and our overall wellbeing.
We’ve learned that the fancy tertiary education that we’re still paying off is absolutely useless to us – for those of us who were able to find employment, it taught us nothing about the realities of the jobs; and for those of us who couldn’t, well, we didn’t need to spend three or more years of our lives getting an expensive piece of paper to go work as the cashier at McDonalds.
We’ve learned that just hard work isn’t enough anymore. There’s always someone somewhere else in the world who is willing to work twice as hard for half as much – and if we try to match that offer, we’ll get lowballed until we give up.
</end rhetoric> Yes, it’s a little over the top. I am a drama queen.
And because of all these things, we know that what matters in the end is being so good at what we do, that we can’t be ignored. Developing that kind of mastery takes time, dedication–and yes, a passion for a dream that you believe in.
What we value is self-actualization in our calling.
We don’t agree with the notion that the “cost is too high”. When you start with nothing (or worse, when you start with tens–or hundreds–of thousands of dollars in tertiary education debt), you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.