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  • Sonali Chandra

Labor Day

On this Labor Day 2020, I’d like to share my immigrant parent’s story of their careers.

One afternoon, when I returned from 6th grade, I saw my father was already home. I was very surprised, and I naively asked if he had a holiday. He sat me down and told me he lost his pharmaceutical job [due to corporate downsizing], and we need to save every penny going forward.

What followed was non-stop financial and emotional hardship my family. My father had long periods of unemployment, and whenever he did work, it was always on a temporary or contract basis. Being the man of the house, & the breadwinner, with an extensive education, it bruised his ego to face financial difficulties. My mother didn’t have a college degree (most women in my parent’s generation did not, as they were raised to be housewives), and her department store job paid minimum wage; she would return from work every evening with aching feet, but she would not rest, as she had to prepare dinner and do housework. I remember countless times when my parents fought over (the lack of) money, and we had to turn off the lights early, keep the heat at a low setting, or never turn on the A/C, so that we would not run up the bills.

It broke my heart when my parents stopped my dance lessons (due to high fees) – dance was my passion, and I loved dressing up to perform on stage. I also felt frustrated to not be able to ask my parents for money to do “fun stuff” (like eat-out or shop for clothes, especially since I attended public school where I did not have a uniform, and all the other girls had the latest fashions); I felt so proud & independent at age 14, when I started working at McDonalds, and I no longer had to ask my parents for money. At the same time, I learned “the value of a dollar”, and I realized I was a lot more careful with my own hard-earned money.

Finally, in 2015, my parents sold our New Jersey home, and they retired back to India. For the first time in 16 years, I saw my father relax and smile; he no longer had the financial pressure of a mortgage and providing for a household.

In closing, here are the lessons I learned while on this roller-coaster journey:

1. living within one’s means is so important

2. material items (in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses/Patels”) aren’t worth it

3. If one industry is no longer viable option, then it is necessary to re-invent oneself

4. Job stability in America is non-existent, and the easiest person to change is oneself

5. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it.

6. Health and happiness are most important

I am grateful to my parents having persisted in America & sacrificing their own happiness, instead of selling our home while I was still in school, and uprooted me to India.

I hope your family’s journey was/is not as tumultuous as mine. I sincerely believe that no one should have endure the hardships of unemployment.