A Tale of Two Generations

This is part 4 of 4 in the series Dream Traps - What's Stopping You?.

Recently, Sarah and I have been working on the opening number to our show, which is tentatively titled Graduation Day.

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.

I promise this is a picture of me and Sarah; unfortunately it's a screencap from a smart phone video...and said smart phone was not focusing correctly.

I promise this is a picture of me and Sarah; unfortunately it’s a screencap from a smart phone video…and said smart phone was not focusing correctly.

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:

When I retweeted that earlier in the week, I got an interesting response from my uncle (which my mom then liked on Facebook):

I would never suggest that your dreams are not valid or that you should not pursue them, but I think you have perhaps misunderstood the true cultural norms in North America. Here, your first duty as an adult is to provide an adequate living for yourself and your family. If you can do that by "following your dreams", so much the better, but your family comes first, before yourself. The "follow your dreams" concept is a warm and fuzzy ideal, but few actually choose it as the cost is too high. BTW, my parents are not immigrants.

A different viewpoint from my uncle (which my mom shares).

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:

Those we forget in the cold

Those we forget in the cold by ChrisGampat, on Flickr

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.

Thruway McDonald's

Thruway McDonald's by Random Retail, on Flickr

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.

Everything and Nothing

Everything and Nothing by Andreia, on Flickr

Series Navigation« The Aptitude/Passion Disconnect – Being Good At Something You Don’t Like »
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I'm just a girl with a piano. I'm on a quest to go from audit files to Broadway. Currently, I'm working on an as-yet untitled musical exploring identity, family, and love for second generation immigrants. In my spare time, I serve as the Secretary/Communications Director for the NYC-based Composers Collective.

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2 Responses to “A Tale of Two Generations”

  1. bk says:

    Quoting Robin Sharma, “Be so good at what you do that you leave people breathless by your performance.” And just as Steve Jobs shared in his story about Death in the Stanford Commencement talk back in 2005, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

    Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

  2. Deborah Lau says:

    Some truly great quotes to live by. Thanks for sharing, BK!



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