I don’t remember exactly how old I was, probably 7 or 8 years old. I was at the supermarket and my dad wanted to buy a new phone.
He was talking to the seller and couldn’t understand some technical features, because he had a basic knowledge of the Italian language. I was beside him. I understood what was going on and jumped into the conversation between him and the seller. Thanks to my intervention everything went fine. My dad bought a new phone and we went back home happy.
From that day, I started to believe I was a superhero. The little guy who was able to understand and relate to everyone, Albanian and Italian people. A little superhero who was able to fix every situation that needed someone who was capable of handling those two languages. There was no one like me around. So yes, I was a superhero.
Growing up as a son of migrants you have to deal with situations like that daily. It becomes so normal that you get used to it. The older you get, the better you understand that you are a sort of bridge. I stopped describing myself as a hero, and I started to feel like a bridge. My task was to connect the two cultures that I belonged to.
But there was a problem: Those two cultures were difficult to connect.
At the age of 28, I now realize that the phrase “a better future” was just a nice phrase — nothing more.
I remained positive, I promised myself that I would complete the task. I promised myself that I would do all the things my parents wanted from me; I would study, I would never make any problem, I would get a job and reach the goal they had for me: a better future. I thought that was the best way to complete the task.
I did everything, I achieved results I never thought I’d be able to achieve.
But unfortunately, at the age of 28, I now realize that the phrase “a better future” was just a nice phrase — nothing more.
I realize that for our parents’ generation the most important thing is their honor, not our happiness. Because there is no achievement that will ever make you better than a daughter or a son that follows the Albanian culture.
A culture that wants you to find an Albanian partner; a culture that wants you to build a family. A culture that judges you if you don’t have a son, leading some women to have selective abortions. A culture that pretends a woman is collateral that belongs first to her father and then to her husband. A culture that gives complete power to a man over his wife. A culture that judges you for every choice you make.
You can become the most successful person in the globe, but those people who are doing the same things their parents did, being simply a copy of them, who never tried to be something different and better, well, those are the ones who are doing things “properly.” The ones to take as an example, because honor and what the relatives and the people of your community say is more important than your happiness. You should be like those who follow the culture, not try to be yourself.
Most of my compatriots around the world don’t feel free to choose their way.
Talking to compatriots and people of other nationalities that grew up like me, I realized that nobody ever asked me how I was feeling. What was it like to live like that? What was it like to try to be a superhero or a bridge? Nobody asked, because nobody ever realized what I was doing. I’m sure it’s the same for all those who grew up like me — and it is an immense pressure to bear.
Instead, the focus has always been on one thing: “What people are going to say.”
Most of my compatriots around the world don’t feel free to choose their way. They know that a mix-culture marriage, or their sexual orientation, or simply their life choices would be considered to be a shame and therefore ruin the honor of the family.
There is a sensation that I used to feel sometimes when I was younger: My idea of happiness changed depending on where I was.
Outside of my home, I could try to reach what I truly wanted and be really happy. Once I stepped inside I had to change my idea of happiness and adapt it to my culture. That means to accept that there are things I’m never going to get. It’s like being poor and knowing that you can’t afford something.
I am aware that it is tough for the generation of our parents. It’s difficult to imagine that a daughter or a son doesn’t want to have a family, or decides to marry someone who is not part of the culture or simply wants a life that is entirely different from their life.
For our generation it is definitely easier to not follow the rules. We grew up in a completely different historical period. None of us has lived under a regime, like our parents did.
I can also imagine that experiences such as asking your children to translate a document or a doctor’s diagnosis for you could have the effect of making some people feel inadequate or ashamed — I don’t want to forget all the sacrifices our parents’ generation made and all the tough experiences they had to go through for us.
If the dream was simply to have a kid who repeats everything they did, then all the sacrifices made for us don’t make much sense.
When you realize that the culture, the honor, the pride come before your happiness, it steadily chips away at all the hopes and wishes you have for the future. I grew up shifting from being a superhero to a bridge. I reached a moment when I thought I had worked so much and so well on me, that I became a strong bridge, able to connect these two cultures perfectly. I was so proud.
But it didn’t last long. That sensation just disappeared, and I’m tired now. I don’t feel a strong bridge anymore. I feel I’m falling between my two worlds, with that bridge I built disappearing into the distance and sometimes it feels like nothing can stop me.
I don’t think I’ll ever try to rebuild the bridge again — I don’t have the strength, because building that bridge takes energy and it takes a little bit of yourself every time. Now, I’m aware that when I’m just trying to be happy, make the most of my life and find a purpose, my decisions are just going to hurt someone.
I keep thinking about those days when I felt a superhero. I envy myself. How happy and proud I was. Now, I simply feel I wasted so much time for nothing. Was everything worthless? Maybe I should have just chosen the Albanian part. Maybe everything would have been easier, and maybe I would have been happier right now.
Instead of being in the middle of an identity crisis, without knowing or understanding who I am anymore. Conscious that I will probably never reach my personal idea of happiness.
Don’t suffer alone
If you are struggling with feelings of despair or depression, don’t suffer alone.
In Kosovo, you can call the Linja e Jetës between the hours of 18:00 and 02:00, anonymously and without judgement, on 0800 12345.
Similar support is available in Germany, Switzerland, Italy the UK and various other countries in Europe (see here), the U.S. (see here), Canada (see here) and many other countries worldwide (see here).
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.